Bradley Wiggins tightened his grip on the yellow jersey with a Tour de France stage victory, heaping pressure on defending champion Cadel Evans.
Britain's Olympic track champion Wiggins on Monday was widely expected to increase his overnight lead of 10sec on his Australian rival on the first of two long time trials to feature in the 99th edition of the race.
But by the end of a 41.5 km solo ride that had seen former four-time world champion Fabian Cancellara finish 57sec in arrears, Wiggins had pushed his advantage over the Australian to 1min 53sec. The icing on the cake for Team Sky was Chris Froome's second place at 35sec, two days after the Kenyan-born Briton claimed his maiden stage at the first hilltop finish at La Planche des Belles Filles.
Evans's American teammate Tejay Van Garderen was fourth at 1:06, just ahead of French time trial champion Sylvain Chavanel in sixth at 1:24. Evans, who finished sixth at 1:43, admitted his surprise that Wiggins and Froome had "got first and second in the time trial".
But he added: "They were exceptional. "When you're out there on your own, there's not much you can do, you do what you can. But there's still a lot more racing to be done before Paris."
Wiggins' priority had been to distance his rivals for the yellow jersey. But soon after turning on the turbos from the start of the slightly technical rolling course, it was clear he would be giving Evans a small mountain to climb ahead of two days in the high Alps on Wednesday and Thursday.
"I knew from the first pedal turn that I felt fantastic," said the 32-year-old Londoner. "But to go from that to winning the stage, it's just fantastic.
"We came here and did a good reconnaissance of the course, which has lots of little bends and is quite technical at the finish.
"But today wasn't about winning. I was thinking more about the GC (general classification) battle with (Vincenzo) Nibali and Cadel. The stage wasn't my priority."
Italian Nibali, an aggressive racer who could become a key ally of Evans' in the mountains, did well to finish at 2:07 and is now fourth overall at 2:23. Having raced against Froome and Wiggins at last year's Tour of Spain, where the English pair finished around a minute ahead of him on a 47 km time trial in Salamanca, the Italian was not surprised.
"I expected to lose as much time to Froome and Wiggins after the Tour of Spain result last year," said Nibali, who rides for Liquigas.
Russian Denis Menchov, a former winner of the Tour of Spain and Giro d'Italia, is in fifth at 3:02.
Despite getting the job done, Wiggins is not celebrating yet. "After the rest day [on Tuesday] it will be a whole different ball game," he said.
"And anything can happen, a bad day or a crash, so let's just take it a day at a time."
Evans sealed victory in 2011 with a strong time trial performance on stage 19. But despite being encouraged with a time that was superior to world champion Tony Martin and only 46 secs behind Cancellara, he will have no option but to shake things up in the mountain stages ahead.
"It wasn't my best time trial but certainly not a bad one, and in comparison to the other time triallists like Cancellara and Martin and so on it seems that I wasn't so off the mark," said Evans.
Asked what his approach would now be, he added: "Same as always. Fight to the end and don't give up.
"It hasn't been optimal so far the Tour, 1:53 down is not the best position to be in compared to last year when I was only two seconds down [at the same stage].
"But we'll reassess the situation day by day and we don't give up, that's for sure, we don't give up." – AFP