Christopher Froome trudged through rainy conditions and surprisingly held off Alberto Contador to win the Stage 17 time trials and extend his overall lead on the field.
The race's overall leader, Froome finished in a time of 51 minutes and 33 seconds, barely edging out Contador, who seemed like the favorite heading into the stage. A short, 20-mile trek from Embrun to Chorges in the French Alps, Wednesday's final time trial had all the makings of a trek conducive to Contador's style or racing.
And for much of the early going, it seemed like the 30-year-old Spaniard would to just that. He opened up a lead on Froome in the early part of the race, gliding ahead of the pack and looking like he'd take a major bite out of the Englishman's overall lead.
However, it wasn't to be. Froome made a torrid charge to the front, besting Contador and coming away with a nine-second victory over his fiercest rival. As pointed out by Team Sky's Twitter feed, Froome's time in the final trial stage of the 2013 Tour De France was the fastest in history:
The Englishman, who finished second at last year's event, now holds a four-minute, 34-second lead over Contador, who moved into second as a result of his finish. Coming in third in Wednesday's Trial was Joaquin Rodriguez Oliver, just one second behind his fellow Spaniard. That helped Rodriguez Olivier stay in outside contention, sixth place overall and behind Froome by seven minutes and 21 seconds.
The trial was an especially dreadful outing for Bauke Mollema. The Dutch rider may have forced himself off the podium in Stage 17, losing two minutes and nine seconds off Froome to fall into fourth place. Mollema had been in second place throughout much of the event, and it will be awfully difficult for him to make up time in the remaining stages.
Thursday sees the return of one of the Tour's most difficult climbs, a 107-mile hike from Thursday from Gap to L'Alpe-Huez. The stage will see riders have to take steep climbs up at two different points of the stage, marking the first time they've went up L'Alpe-Huez twice in the same day. It's not the lengthiest mountain stage in the world, but riders will probably feel like it is by the end of the day.
Froome should be in a solid position to extend his lead. He won two mountain stages already in the event and will have the benefit of teammate backing as he makes his way through one of this year's most treacherous stages.
Then again, the Yellow Jacket-holder looked like he could do just fine by himself on Wednesday.
*For complete Stage 17 information, visit LeTour.com.