Nicolas Roche’s hopes of breaking back into the top ten in the Tour de France took a knock on stage 17 to Peyragudes despite a strong performance of the finishing climb.
Roche (AG2R La Mondiale) started the day just four seconds off tenth place but drifted to 1’12” after losing ground inside the final seven kilometres of the category one finishing climb.
He placed 12th on the stage just 1’30” behind lone winner Alejandro Valverde (Moviestar) while Dan Martin (Garmin-Sharp) proved his climbing pedigree once again by finishing tenth with just nineteen seconds separating the cousins.
The duo started the 15 kilometre climb among a select group of race favourites who trailed Valverde by 2’25” thanks to the Spaniard’s attacking form over the preceding Port de Bales.
That group was reduced to just twelve riders by the midpoint with Valverde’s lead shrinking to 1’44” as Ivan Basso set a rapid tempo for his third placed Liquigas-Cannondale teammate Vincenzo Nibali.
The fireworks followed with attacks from Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Lotto-Belisol) and Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) splitting the chase group and causing Martin and Roche to lose ground.
Race leader Bradley Wiggins (Sky) did some damage when he took to the front with 3.3 kilometres to go before handing the reins to loyal lieutenant Christopher Froome.
The duo were soon clear of their rivals and with just over two kilometres to the finish were a mere 41 seconds behind Valverde.
Froome was clearly stronger than his team leader, slowing on a handful of occasions to allow him keep pace as a debate ensued about whether he should ride for the stage win.
While the freedom to attack would have given Froome a valuable opportunity to extend his advantage over Nibali he complied with team orders and so sacrificed the stage honours.
He finished the stage in second place just 19 seconds behind the Spaniard with Wiggins on his wheel.
Roche will have another opportunity to regain some time on Friday’s lumpy stage from Blagnac to Brive-la-Gaillarde but may have left himself with too big a mountain to climb ahead of Saturday’s time trial.
Tour de France
Stage 17: Bagneres de Luchon – Peyragudes, 143.5 kilometres
1. Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Spa) Movistar Team 4:12:11
2. Christopher Froome (GBr) Sky Procycling 0:00:19
3. Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Sky Procycling
4. Thibaut Pinot (Fra) FDJ-Big Mat 0:00:22
5. Pierre Rolland (Fra) Team Europcar 0:00:26
6. Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Bel) Lotto Belisol Team
7. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale 0:00:37
8. Tejay Van Garderen (USA) BMC Racing Team 0:00:54
9. Christopher Horner (USA) RadioShack-Nissan 0:01:02
10. Daniel Martin (Irl) Garmin - Sharp 0:01:11
12. Nicolas Roche (Irl) AG2R La Mondiale at 1 minute, 30 seconds
General classification after stage 17:
1. Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Sky Procycling 78:28:02
2. Christopher Froome (GBr) Sky Procycling 0:02:05
3. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale 0:02:41
4. Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Bel) Lotto Belisol Team 0:05:53
5. Tejay Van Garderen (USA) BMC Racing Team 0:08:30
6. Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC Racing Team 0:09:57
7. Haimar Zubeldia Agirre (Spa) RadioShack-Nissan 0:10:11
8. Pierre Rolland (Fra) Team Europcar 0:10:17
9. Janez Brajkovic (Slo) Astana Pro Team 0:11:00
10. Thibaut Pinot (Fra) FDJ-Big Mat 0:11:46
11. Nicolas Roche (Irl) AG2R La Mondiale at 12 minutes, 58 seconds
36. Daniel Martin (Irl) Garmin-Sharp, one hour, 20 minutes, 30 seconds