| Thor Hushovd has been one of the strongest racers of the Tour de France so far [EPA]
World champion Thor Hushovd of Norway led a three-man breakaway to win a rainy 16th stage of the Tour de France on Tuesday, as overall race leader Thomas Voeckler lost crucial seconds against two top race favourites.
Tour favourite Alberto Contador attacked in the final climb of Tuesday's 162.5-kilometer route from Saint-Paul-Trois-Chateaux to Gap - and reduced his deficit in the title quest.
Hushovd won his second stage this Tour by outpacing fellow Norwegian Edvald Boassen Hagen in second and Hushovd's Garmin-Cervelo teammate Ryder Hesjedal in third.
"I was able to save it"
Thomas Voeckler on holding onto the yellow jersey
Hushovd, a 32-year-old veteran long known as a star sprinter, showed off his new talents when he won stage 13 over a big climb. This time, he displayed a puncher's ability to break away on a more rolling course.
The Norwegian has been one of the stars of this race: He also held the yellow jersey for six days early in the race, after the Garmin-Cervelo team won the team time trial in stage 2.
"I have succeeded a lot at the Tour de France," Hushovd said.
Contador and two-time Tour runner-up Cadel Evans gained time on Voeckler, who retained the yellow jersey, while two-time runner-up Andy Schleck of Luxembourg was among the day's big losers - crossing the finish back of the other favourites.
"I was able to save it,'' Voeckler said of the yellow jersey, which he expects to lose before the race ends on Sunday in Paris.
Ten breakaway riders pressed the pace through most of the stage, though by the finish that group had thinned to the two Norwegian riders and Hesjedal, a Canadian.
As the pack prepared to scale the mid-grade Col de Manse climb, with about 15 kilometers left in the stage, Contador sped out of the front of the pack - in a string of attacks to gain about 20 seconds on most favourites.
| Contador is quickly making up time he lost during the first stage of the Tour [GALLO/GETTY]
Only Evans, a two-time Tour runner-up, kept up.
While the 9.5-kilometer climb was not well-suited for Contador to gain time on his rivals - it wasn't so steep that he couldn't keep up - the signal from the three-time champion was clear: Don't forget about me.
The attack also did more than that. Contador finished 18 seconds ahead of Voeckler to reduce his deficit to the Frenchman to 3 minutes, 42 seconds.
"When he (Contador) attacks, it's a bit scary," said Voeckler.
But perhaps more importantly, the Spaniard also gained time on two-time runner-up, Schleck.
Contador, who lost crucial time in the first stage after being held up behind a pile-up and struggled in the first mountain stage, was back to his old brilliant self as his repeated attacks dropped the Schleck brothers and Ivan Basso, who is now seventh overall.