Fignon, lieutenant to the Italian contender, Gianni Bugno, won the 249-kilometre 11th leg from Strasbourg to Mulhouse in a style that bore comparison with his heyday in the mid-1980s when he twice won the Tour.
This was vintage Fignon, finishing alone 12 seconds ahead of his nearest rival. 'It has been a long time since I knew a day like this,' Fignon said. 'When I heard that Greg LeMond had fallen back I told Gianni (Bugno) that we must do something, so I attacked. I knew I could afford to be tired at the finish because of the rest day, so I gave it all I had.'
Fignon, in company with Ramon Gonzalez, of Spain, began his attack 100km out of Strasbourg. He caught up the Colombian pair, Oscar de Jesus Vargas and Abelardo Rondon, then set his sight on the leaders, Dimitri Konyshev and Fabio Roscioli.
By the time Fignon reached the day's last and highest climb, the Ballon d'Alsace, he had left the rest of the field behind, Gonzalez having returned to the obscurity of the pack.
With 27km remaining, Fignon was two minutes ahead of the Tour favourites, but his lead was cut back and the main field arrived at the finish only 22 seconds behind him.
Fignon's first stage victory since 1989 in Villard de Lans lifted him from 14th to 10th in the overall standings.
Greg LeMond, the three-times winner of the Tour, failed to keep up with the early manoeuvres but caught up with the main group, just as Rolf Golz was overhauled at the front of it.
Golz had been leader of the pack for more than 130km. His lead reached almost 12 1/2 min, but the German, who won the Tour of the Mediterranean after winning the first stage by 22 minutes following an early break, was then reeled in and he finished the day almost 14 minutes behind Fignon.
The day's biggest loser was Jesper Skibby who went from third overnight to 19th as a result of his team's tactics.
The Danish rider was dumbfounded at an attack by his Dutch team-mate, Gert-Jan Theunisse, when the team already had Dimitri Konyshev in a leading group. It left the Dane to struggle in seven minutes after Fignon.
Tactics must be tighter in Saturday's Alpine stage into Italy. Bugno and LeMond want to cut the gap with Miquel Indurain and some formidable climbs offer a chance.
Fignon is positive. 'It is not over. I still think Gianni and myself have a chance to win the Tour. Everyone is saying that Indurain is on another planet. I hope he stays there.'
TOUR DE FRANCE 11th stage (249km, Strasbourg-Mulhouse): 1 L Fignon (Gatorade, Fr) 6hr 30min 49sec; 2 L Dufaux (Helvetia, Swit) +12sec; 3 P Pedersen (Amaya, Den); 4 A Elli (Ariostea, It); 5 D Konyshev (TVM, CIS); 6 P Delgado (Banesto, Sp); 7 L Leblanc (Castorama, Fr) all same time; 8 L Jalabert (ONCE, Fr) +22; 9 C Chiappucci (Carerra, It); 10 S Kelly (Festina, Irl); 11 M Ghirotto (Carerra, It); 12 J van de Laer (Tulip, Bel); 13 R Alcala (PDM, Mex); 14 D Arnould (Castorama, Fr); 15 F Chioccioli (GB- MG, It); 16 M Indurain (Banesto, Sp); 17 G Bugno (Gatorade, It); 18 E Boyer (Z, Fr); 19 P Lino (RMO, Fr); 20 G-J Theunisse (TVM, Neth) all s/t. Selected: 32 G LeMond (Z, US) +22; 33 A Kvalsvoll (Z, Nor); 42 S Roche (Carerra, Irl); 48 R Millar (TVM, GB) both s/t; 70 J Skibby (TVM, Den) +7min 01sec; 100 S Lilholt (Tulip, Den) +12:06; 101 J Weltz (ONCE, Den) 12:06; 110 M Earley (PDM, Irl) +13:50; 111 B Holm (Tulip, Den) 13:50; 120 S Yates (Motorola, GB) 13:50; 153 P Meinert (TVM, Den) 25:12
Overall: 1 Lino 48hr 32min 59sec; 2 Indurain +1min 27sec; 3 Roche +4:15; 4 LeMond +4:27; 5 Bugno +4:39; 6 Chiappucci +4:54; 7 Y Ledanois (Castorama, Fr) +5:52; 8 G Perini (Carerra, It) +6:44; 9 Delgado +7:01; 10 Fignon +7:32; 11 J Heppner (Telekom, Ger) +7:38; 12 R Alcala (PDM, Mex) +7:46; 13 G Rue (Castorama, Fr) +8:14; 14 Leblanc +8:34; 15 E Breukink (PDM, Neth) +8:38. Selected: 25 Millar +12:21; 26 Kvalsvoll +13:38; 30 Kelly +14:56; 83 Holm +40:17; 90 Yates +43:01; 94 Earley +44.Reuse content