Tour de France leader Chris Froome tightened his grip on the yellow jersey after finishing runner-up to world champion Tony Martin in the 11th stage time trial on Wednesday.
Martin had set the early pace for the windswept 33 km course from Avranches to Mont Saint Michel in 36min 29sec but had a nervous wait as Froome threatened to upset his hopes of victory.
“It was a long wait,” said Martin, who started 65th from the 182 starters.
Belgium’s Tomas De Gendt, of Vacansoleil, was closest to challenge Martin before Froome went but was 1min 01sec slower than the German at the finish line to end up third.
At the start I was quite sure I would hold on because I had a good lead on Thomas De Gendt. I didn't think Froome would get so close
Martin admitted he was surprised to see Froome challenge his mark.
“At the start I was quite sure I would hold on because I had a good lead on Thomas De Gendt. I didn’t think Froome would get so close,” he said.
As Martin watched nervously from the hot seat, Team Sky leader Froome came home in second place at 12secs adrift.
However the Kenyan-born Briton’s effort meant he finished more than two minutes ahead of principal rival, two-time champion Alberto Contador of Spain, and his compatriot Alejandro Valverde.
Contador, considered Froome’s biggest rival ahead of four tough stages in the Alps beginning Sunday, could only finish 15th at 2:15.
He jumped up two places to fourth overall but has gone from being 1:51 behind to 3:54 in arrears.
Fellow Spaniard Alejandro Valverde began the day at 1:25 behind Froome but despite remaining in second place overall the Movistar team leader is now 3:25 behind Froome.
Froome, who won Olympic time trial bronze in London last year, said he had achieved what he set out to do.
“I’m very happy with the time I set. The objective today was to try and take the maximum time possible from my rivals,” he said.
“I hope to keep it in the next days.”