Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) has won the 17th stage of the 2012 Tour de France.
The Spanish rider clung on ahead of the pursuit of the maillot jaune to claim victory at the end of the mountainous 143.5km stage from Bagnères-de-Luchon to Peyragudes.
Team Sky’s Chris Froome was second, with teammate and race leader, Bradley Wiggins, on his wheel after another day’s selfless pacing by Froome.
Valverde escaped the peloton as part of an early breakaway before shedding his fellow escapees on the climb of the Port de Bales.
He clung on to finish just 19 seconds ahead of a charging Froome who again appeared to receive instructions on the team radio to slow down for Wiggins, in an echo of stage 11.
That said, Wiggins appeared comfortable as the pair raced through the final kilometre, even allowing himself a smile as he crossed the line.
Afterwards, Wiggins told reporters he had felt fantastic as he crested the 1,566 metre Col de Peyresourde at 135km, having already climbed the first category Col de Menté, and the hors categorie Port de Balès.
The Sky duo’s performance was arguably the most dominant of the race, riding clear of all the GC contenders and climbers, among the Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Lotto-Belisol), Europcar’s Pierre Roland, and white jersey holder, Teejay Van Garderen (BMC Racing) in the final kilometres.
Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale) produced another aggressive ride after making repeated attacks yesterday, briefly joining Valverde’s breakaway group, before dropping back from the Spaniard after a brief handshake. His efforts today were in vain. He lost contact with Wiggins and Froome, and dropped a further 18 seconds on GC.
Last year’s winner, Cadel Evans (BMC Racing) suffered again after a grueling sixteenth stage effectively ended his title defence, and today finished 2.10 down on Valverde.
The youngest rider on this year’s Tour, stage eight winner, Thibaut Pinot (FDJ-Big Mat), produced another impressive performance, briefly riding up to Wiggins’ wheel at the denouement before another acceleration from Froome dropped the Frenchman.
Tomorrow’s 225km rolling stage from Blagnac to Brive-la-Gaillarde takes the riders over four climbs, one of category three, and three classed as category four.
Stage 17 – result
1) Alejandro Valverde (SPA) – Movista – 4.12.11
2) Christopher Froome (GBR) Team Sky +19”
3) Bradley Wiggins (GBR) – Team Sky
4) Thibaut Pinot (FRA) – FDJ-Big Mat +22”
5) Pierre Rolland (FRA) – Team Europcar +26”
6) Jurgen Van Den Broeck (BEL) – Lotto-Belisol
7) Vincenzo Nibali (ITA) – Liquigas-Cannondale +37”
8) Tejay Van Garderen (USA) – BMC Racing +54”
9) Christopher Horner (USA) – RadioShack-Nissan-Trek +1.02
10) Daniel Martin (IRL) – Garmin-Sharp +1.11
1) Bradley Wiggins (GBR) – Team Sky – 78.28.02
2) Christopher Froome (GBR) – Team Sky Procycling +2.05
3) Vincenzo Nibali (ITA) – Liquigas-Cannondale +2.41
4) Jurgen Van Den Broeck (BEL) – Lotto-Belisol +5.53
5) Tejay Van Garderen (USA) – BMC Racing +8.30
6) Cadel Evans (AUS) – BMC Racing + 09.57
7) Haimar Zubeldia (SPA) – RadioShack-Nissan-Trek +10.11
8) Pierre Rolland (FRA) – Team Europcar +10.17
9) Janez Brajkovic (SLO) – Astana +11.00
10) Thibaut Pinot (FRA) – FDJ-Big Mat +11.46