Tour de France 2013: Chris Froome extends his lead with emphatic display in time trial

Sky's British rider pulls away from Valverde who admits 'he'll be difficult to beat now'

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The Independent Online

Britain's Chris Froome took his second major step towards overall victory in the Tour de France as he netted second place in today's crucial time trial and more than doubled his lead over his closest rivals.

Alejandro Valverde, 13th in the time trial stage, remains his closest pursuer but is now more than three minutes down – the kind of gap that is, barring total disaster, usually unbridgeable in a Grand Tour and which permits Froome to play a defensive game from here on in.

After taking a devastating win on Saturday's first mountaintop finish, Froome came within a whisker of taking his first ever full-length time trial win as he tore across the flatlands of northern Brittany towards the Mont Saint-Michel island monastery. But although his intermediate times on the 33km race against the clock were almost equal to those of world time trial champion Tony Martin, by the finish Froome was 12 seconds behind.

"I was a little bit on the limit in those last kilometres – there was a strong headwind – but overall I'm very happy," Froome said afterwards. "It's still a long way to go but I can be very satisfied with the advantage I've got at the moment."

Looking back at the 2012 Tour, the sense of déjà vu is inescapable: 12 months ago Froome's team-mate Bradley Wiggins netted yellow on the race's first major summit finish – as Froome did this time – and then considerably broadened the gap in the first individual time trial, as happened today.

Froome may not have won, as Wiggins did in 2012 – there are 10 stages remaining and big question marks over Sky's collective strength after their Pyrenean performance on Sunday – but his rivals clearly recognise that the Tour is now the Briton's to lose.

"There's Froome and there's the rest of us; losing two minutes, like I did today, is a lot," Valverde said. "Can he be beaten? Hmm... difficult."

Alberto Contador, named by Froome as his most dangerous rival prior to the Tour, was even more pessimistic, saying even before the stage was finished that "even the podium in Paris doesn't look possible for me".

Fifteenth on the stage, the Spaniard continues to be a shadow of his former self and is now nearly four minutes down. This is his worst Grand Tour since he was injured in the 2011 race and took fifth, although that result was later annulled, but it is in line with his poor performances throughout the season, with his one victory of 2013, in Argentina in January, looking increasingly distant.

Froome remained cautious, arguing: "If last Sunday [when Sky suffered a collective defeat in the mountains] is anything to go by I'm going to need every second I can take before Paris. The [rival] teams will throw everything they can at us over the next 10 days."

That may be so, but with team-mate Richie Porte clearly bouncing back after Sunday's near debacle – he took fourth in the time trial – Froome said he expected "that Richie will be up there again in the last week of mountains, along with Pete [Kennaugh]".

Froome also commented at length on the incident in which Mark Cavendish had urine thrown at him by a spectator during the time trial, saying: "It's sad; one of the most beautiful things about this sport is that you can come and watch from the side of the road and get close to the top riders of the world.

"Mark is one of the big characters in the sport. Some people love him, others hate him, but this ruins the whole atmosphere of coming to watch it. It leaves a bad taste in the mouth."

Hopefully, in today's finish in Tours, traditionally host to bunch sprints, Cavendish will be able to put the incident behind him with what could be his 25th stage win.

Mark Cavendish urine attack linked to crash row

The Tour had an uncomfortable reminder of riders' vulnerability to attack when a spectator threw urine at Mark Cavendish during today's time trial.

"I thought cycling fans were gentlemen," said his team manager, Patrick Lefevere. "Mark is not upset, just sad. I cannot blame anyone, there are maybe 200,000 people out there, and one person decided to do this."

Lefevere linked the attack to Tuesday's bunch sprint, in which Cavendish clashed with Tom Veelers, who fell heavily. Race officials said Cavendish was not to blame.

Personal attacks on riders are fortunately very rare – Lance Armstrong was spat on while tackling Alpe d'Huez in 2004 and Lefevere mentioned Eddy Merckx being punched in the kidneys by a fan during the 1975 Tour.

Alasdair Fotheringham

Tour de France: Race details

Leading final positions after stage 11 (Avranches - Mont-Saint-Michel (ITT), 33km): 1 T Martin (Ger) Omega Pharma-Quick Step 36min 29sec, 2 C Froome (GB) Sky Procycling at 0.12sec, 3 T De Gendt (Bel) Vacansoleil-DCM Pro Cycling Team at 1min 01sec, 4 R Porte (Aus) Sky Procycling at 1.21, 5 M Kwiatkowski (Pol) Omega Pharma-Quick Step at 1.31, 6 S Tuft (Can) Orica-GreenEdge at 1.35, 7 S Chavanel (Fr) Omega Pharma-Quick Step at 1.37, 8 J Roy (Fr) at 1.43, 9 T Dumoulin (Neth) Team Argos-Shimano at 1.45, 10 J Castroviejo Nicolas (Sp) Movistar Team at 1.52, 11 B Mollema (Neth) Belkin Pro Cycling Team at 2.05, 12 A Talansky (US) Garmin-Sharp at 2.08, 13 A Valverde Belmonte (Sp) Movistar Team at 2.12, 14 L Ytting Bak (Den) Lotto Belisol at 2.15, 15 A Contador Velasco (Sp) Team Saxo-Tinkoff at same time, 16 R Kreuziger (Cz Rep) Team Saxo-Tinkoff at 2.18, 17 P Sagan (Slovak) Cannondale Pro Cycling at same time, 18 M Bodnar (Pol) Cannondale Pro Cycling at 2.21, 19 J-C Peraud (Fr) AG2R La Mondiale at 2.22, 20 M Rogers (Aus) Team Saxo-Tinkoff at 2.26. Selected others: 26 D Millar (GB) Garmin-Sharp at 2min 34sec, 65 I Stannard (GB) Sky Procycling at 3.38, 66 G Thomas (GB) Sky Procycling at 3.40, 135 P Kennaugh (GB) Sky Procycling at 5.00, 163 M Cavendish (GB) Omega Pharma-Quick Step at 5.31.

Overall: 1 C Froome (GB) Sky Procycling 42hr 29min 24sec, 2 A Valverde Belmonte (Sp) Movistar Team at 3.25, 3 B Mollema (Neth) Belkin Pro Cycling Team at 3.37, 4 A Contador Velasco (Sp) Team Saxo-Tinkoff at 3.54, 5 R Kreuziger (Cz Rep) Team Saxo-Tinkoff at 3.57, 6 L Ten Dam (Neth) Belkin Pro Cycling Team at 4.10, 7 M Kwiatkowski (Pol) Omega Pharma-Quick Step at 4.44, 8 N Alexander Quintana Rojas (Col) Movistar Team at 5.18, 9 R A F Da Costa (Portugal) Movistar Team at 5.37, 10 J-C Peraud (Fr) AG2R La Mondiale at 5.39, 11 J Rodriguez Oliver (Sp) Katusha at 5.48, 12 J Fuglsang (Den) Astana Pro Team at same time, 13 D Martin (Irl) Garmin-Sharp at 5.52, 14 C Evans (Aus) BMC Racing Team at 6.54, 15 M Nieve Ituralde (Sp) Euskaltel-Euskadi at 8.04, 16 M Rogers (Aus) Team Saxo-Tinkoff at 8.28, 17 A Schleck (Lux) RadioShack Leopard at 8.32, 18 D Moreno Fernandez (Sp) Katusha at 9.34, 19 M Monfort (Bel) RadioShack Leopard at 10.16, 20 I Anton Hernandez (Sp) Euskaltel-Euskadi at 10.48.

Selected others 83 P Kennaugh (GB) Sky Procycling at 1hr 00min 39sec, 98 D Millar (GB) Garmin-Sharp at 1.12.50, 149 M Cavendish (GB) Omega Pharma-Quick Step at 1.44.09, 165 I Stannard (GB) Sky Procycling at 1.51.42, 172 G Thomas (GB) Sky Procycling at 1.56.34.