This article was originally published on Cyclingnews.com.
Tour de France maillot jaune Chris Froome (Sky) won the 32km mountain time trial from Embrun to Chorges with a time of 51:33, his third stage victory of the 2013 Tour. Alberto Contador (Saxo-Tinkoff) finished second at nine seconds, followed by Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) in third at 10 seconds.
Froome was surprised to have won the stage and extend his overall lead.
"I couldn't believe it when I got over the finish line and saw that I got the fastest time," Froome said. "I went into today to limit my losses and to think of the days to come. To go through the finish with the fastest time, I didn't see that coming…"
Froome admitted he was worried about the weather and the risks of riding in the rain, but was pleased he had switched bikes at the summit to use a bigger gear on the fast descent.
"I didn't think the weather was going in my direction. I had rain on the second descent but lucky it had dried up and that made me happy," he said.
"Changing bikes could very well have made a difference. When I rode the route this morning I realised I needed a bigger gear for the run in and so put on bigger gears for the finale today."
Alberto Contador sets off
Alberto Contador (Saxo-Bank) was in the hot seat with an effort of 51:42, but his decision to remain on his road bike with aero clip-ons while Froome swapped to a time trial bike in the latter section of the route may have cost the Spaniard the stage win. Froome trailed Contador by 11 seconds at the 20km time split on the day's second category two climb, but turned that deficit into a nine-second advantage on the fast run-in to the finish.
While Froome remains in the yellow jersey, Contador's effort against the clock moves the Spaniard into second overall at 4:34. Contador's teammate Roman Kreuziger moves up a position from fourth to third, trailing Froome by 4:51, while Bauke Mollema (Belkin) dropped from second to fourth overall at 6:23 after his 11th place time trial performance, 2:09 slower than Froome.
""It's always a bitter pill swallowing a second place when you're this close," said Saxo-Tinkoff directeur Fabrizio Guidi. "On the other hand, I'm very happy to see that both Roman Kreuziger and Alberto Contador are doing such a stunning time trial and we have now conquered the two lower spots of the podium."
A solid effort from the Tour's best young rider Nairo Quintana (Movistar) kept the young Colombian in both fifth overall and the white jersey, now at 6:58 to Froome, while Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) swapped GC positions with Laurens ten Dam (Belkin) with the Spaniard now in sixth and the Dutchman in seventh.
Disaster for Peraud
As if the Tour de France peloton needed a reminder to exercise caution on the challenging time trial parcours, Jean-Christophe Peraud (AG2R La Mondiale), the best-placed French rider on general classification at 9th place to start the day, crashed heavily during his morning course recon and reportedly cracked his collarbone. Nonetheless, the 36-year-old Frenchman took the start later in the day only to crash again and end his 2013 Tour de France campaign.
The early mark was set by Dutch time trial champion Lieuwe Westra (Vacansoleil-DCM), the 30th rider out of the start house, who stopped the clock in 54:02. Stage 11 winner, reigning time trial world champion Tony Martin (Omega Pharma-QuickStep), showed that his talents against the clock are better-suited to flatter routes as he notched a time 37 seconds down on Westra, a respectable time nonetheless for a route with a pair of category two ascents. At the stage conclusion Martin's effort would ultimately land him in 27th place.
Westra's stint in the hot seat would last for approximately two hours when Jon Izaguirre (Euskaltel-Euskadi) became the first rider to dip below 54 minutes with a new best time of 53:58.
Nearly one hour later, with rain threatening the later starters, Tejay van Garderen (BMC) managed to bank a new best time of 53:24, 34 seconds quicker than the Euskaltel-Euskadi rider. Van Garderen trailed Izaguirre by 10 seconds at the first split, atop the Puy-Sanières climb, reduced his deficit to just three seconds after the descent, and then set a new best split time at the Réallon KOM of 39:47, eight seconds faster. The 2012 Tour de France's best young rider continued to extend his margin over Izaguirre on the descent to the finish to notch the day's fastest time thus far.
Rain showers commenced soon after van Garderen finished, tempering the efforts of those out on the road, but the route was predominantly dry by the time the general classification contenders began to take to the start house.
Andy Schleck (RadioShack Leopard) showed signs of improving form as he crossed the finish line in 54:00, good for third place at the moment and ultimately 15th on the day.
Alejandro Valverde finished 5th
While Alejandro Valverde's overall Tour de France ambitions were dashed after a mechanical on stage 13, the Movistar Spaniard re-set the best times through each of the three intermediate splits, powering through the Réallon KOM at 20km a massive 59 seconds up on van Garderen. Valverde would ultimately stop the clock in 52:03, 1:21 faster than van Garderen, but there was still plenty of heavyweights yet to come.
2011 Tour de France winner Cadel Evans (BMC) would not be one of those to challenge Valverde as the Australian completed the course in 59:37, more than seven minutes off the then best time set by Valverde.
Andrew Talansky (Garmin-Sharp) bettered the time of his compatriot Tejay van Garderen by 10 seconds to temporarily slot into second on the day, a fine outing for the 24-year-old American in his debut Tour de France.
Michal Kwiatkowski (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) soon bumped fellow best young rider contender Talansky down a position as the Pole, a former junior world champion against the clock, went eight seconds quicker in 53:06.
While Jean-Christophe Peraud was struggling to compete having crashed in his morning recon, his Tour de France came to a disastrous conclusion as he crashed once more on the day, with two kilometres remaining on a right-hand bend, and was unable to continue.
To swap, or not swap for a TT bike
Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha), the seventh to last rider to take the start, uncorked an impressive performance as went faster than Valverde through each of the three intermediate splits. The Spaniard, like many riders, opted to swap from a road bike with aero clip-ons to his time trial bike on the climb to the third intermediate split, and reached the 20km mark on the Réallon KOM 18 seconds quicker than Valverde. The 34-year-old Spaniard continued on one of his best performances against the clock to set a new best time of 51:43, 20 seconds better than Valverde.
While Roman Kreuziger (Saxo-Tinkoff) threatened Rodriguez's time, finishing with 51:46 at 13 seconds, his teammate Alberto Contador had set the fastest times of the day at all three intermediate splits. Contador, like Kreuziger, opted not to swap out to a full time trial bike for the latter stint of the course and reached the 20km split six seconds faster than Rodriguez. The lack of a full-time trial bike may have cost Contador some time on the fast run-in to the finish, but the Spaniard still managed to top the time of Rodriguez by less than one second.
Only two riders remained on course - Bauke Mollema (Belkin) and Chris Froome (Sky) - but Contador still held the fastest split through the third checkpoint at 20km as Mollema and then Froome passed the mark. Mollema stopped the clock in 53:42, but his result could have been worse as he nearly crashed on a right-hand bend in the stage finale. The Dutchman over-cooked the corner and made contact with the crowd retention fence, but while he didn't go down he came to a complete stop losing plenty of momentum on the fast run-in to the finish.
That left only Froome on course as Contador occupied the hot seat. Froome trailed Contador by 11 seconds at the 20km split at the Réallon KOM, but the Briton's decision to swap to his full time trial bike on that climb likely made the difference over the final 12km of the course. Froome, tucked into his aero bars through to the finish, erased his 11-second deficit and went nine seconds faster than Contador to further stamp his authority on the 2013 Tour de France.