A second consecutive Alpine victory for Lance Armstrong in yesterday's mountain time-trial both consolidated his advantage over the other favourites and moved him into third overall behind the race leader, François Simon, of France, and Andrei Kivilev, of Kazakhstan.
A lone race against the clock concluding with a 12-mile climb calls for very different skills involved in a mass-start high mountain stage. But Armstrong – who had already won four Tour time-trials – apparently had no problems adapting on the course running from the industrial city of Grenoble to the ski station here at Chamrousse.
The American surged round the final long left-hand bend after nearly a mile of climbing with the same loping sprint he had used to such effect on Alpe D'Huez on Tuesday, to find to his evident delight he had added another minute's advantage over second-placed Jan Ullrich to the two obtained 24 hours earlier.
"There are two battles for me in this year's Tour," a relaxed-looking Armstrong admitted after taking his ninth Tour stage. "I have to put time into the other overall favourites, and pull back time on Simon and Kivilev" – the last two survivors of the massive break on Sunday which gained an unprecedented 35 minutes on the main contenders.
Armstrong acknowledged that becoming the first rider to win two back-to-back Alpine stages since Piotr Ugrumov in 1994 had been partly due to his painstaking preparation of the mountain time-trial, last seen in the Tour in 1996. A firm believer in the advantages of training camps, he had ridden up the climb around half a dozen times earlier this year.
"The weather was so bad we couldn't tackle any other cols," Armstrong said, but he whiled away any lost time in long debates with his directeur sportif, Johan Bruyneel, concerning the correct gearing for the time-trial stage.
Armstrong built on his characteristically thorough approach by being the only favourite to use a helmet for the first 8.5 miles of relative flat, although that particular tactic seemed to have a limited effect. At the foot of the climb he was only 11 seconds ahead of the German – and the helmet had been taken off.
Spinning a low gear on roads drying from the morning's thunderstorms, the double Tour de France winner more than quadrupled that time on the German to 47 seconds a third of the way up the Chamrousse's seven per cent slopes, smashing all previous intermediate bests.
"Armstrong is simply stronger than Ullrich, that is all," the Telekom directeur Rudy Pevenage said as he watched his German protégé grind away in his white national champion's jersey, the 27-year-old's head bowed close to the handlebars in what looked uncomfortably like defeat.
Doubts about Armstrong's condition flickered back into life when he seemed to lose his rhythm on the final section of the climb where Ullrich briefly pulled back a few seconds. But Armstrong dashed any hopes as he accelerated away again in the final half-mile, pushing Ullrich out of provisional best time on the day by a minute.
The German can take consolation that even if he is now only fighting for the right to be called "best loser" – and one imagines that after finishing the Tour second three times already he is getting fed up with that particular moniker – he was 35 seconds faster than the third-placed Joseba Beloki. The Spaniard now has only a slender 24-second lead over Ullrich in the overall standings.
The question of how long Simon will last in yellow before Armstrong overtakes him could be more quickly resolved than local fans would like. Despite having his family flown in specially to boost his morale, the 32-year-old lost seven minutes to the American, and he seems unlikely to last the pace on the three mountain-top finishes to come in the Pyrenees.
But if only for one evening, Armstrong has more domestic questions on his mind. His wife Kristin visited him with their son Luke in Grenoble before the US Postal leader flies with the remainder of the peloton today to Perpignan on the first of the Tour's two rest days.
In a rare revelation about his private life, Armstrong commented that "She is expecting twins in December and did a test recently to find out if they are boys or girls. Tonight we'll open the envelope which contains the results." After his performance in the Alps, the names of potential Tour winners this year seems more limited in possibilities than the genders of his future children.
Alasdair Fotheringham writes for Cycling Weekly
STAGE 11 Grenoble to Chamrousse (32km, 20 miles, individual time trial): 1 L Armstrong (US) US Postal Service 1hr 07min 27sec; 2 J Ullrich (Ger) Telekom +1.00; 3 J Beloki (Sp) ONCE +1.35; 4 R Laiseka (Sp) Euskaltel +2.03; 5 O Sevilla (Sp) Kelme +2.24; 6 I Gonzalez de Galdeano (Sp) ONCE +2.31; 7 S Botero (Col) Kelme +2.43; 8 C Moreau (Fr) Festina +3.00; 9 S Montgomery (Swit) Française Des Jeux +3.07; 10 S Garzelli (It) Mapei +3.08; 11 D Rous (Fr) Bonjour +3.46; 12 A Vinokourov (Kaz) Telekom +3.48; 13 J E Gutierrez (Sp) Kelme +3.51; 14 I Chaureau (Sp) Euskaltel +4.01; 15 I Cuesta (Sp) Cofidis +4.03; 16 F R Cardenas (Col) Kelme +4.10; 17 C Sastre (Sp) ONCE +4.13; 18 L Jalabert (Fr) CSC +4.19; 19 A Klvden (Ger) Telekom +4.28; 20 W Belli (It) Fassa Bortolo +4.31.
Overall: 1 F Simon (Fr) Bonjour 46:48:36; 2 A Kivilev (Kaz) Cofidis +11.01; 3 Armstrong +13.07; 4 Beloki +16.17; 5 Ullrich +16.41; 6 Moreau +18.21; 7 De Galdeano +19.05; 8 Sevilla +19.31; 9 Botero +21.35; 10 S O'Grady (Aus) Crédit Agricole +21.48; 11 L Jalabert +25.25; 12 D Roux (Fr) Bonjour+25.26; 13 M Serrano (Sp) ONCE +25.27; 14 M Boogerd (Neth) Rabobank +25.33; 15 F Mancebo (Sp) Banesto +25.55; 16 Montgomery +26.04; 17 Garzelli +26.20; 18 Gutierrez +26.21; 19 Sastre +27.15; 20 W Belli (It) Fassa Bortolo +27.23. Points: 1 O'Grady 136; 2 E Zabel (Ger) Telekom 127; 3 D Nazon (Fr) Bonjour 90.
King of the Mountains: 1 Roux 127pts; 2 L Jalabert 106; 3 Ullrich 92.
Under-25: 1 Sevilla 47hr 08min 07sec; 2 Mancebo +6min 24sec; 3 Montgomery +6:33.Reuse content