Chris Froome underlined his dominance in the Tour de France as victory in the stage 18 time trial put him almost four minutes clear in the yellow jersey.
Froome beat Dutch time-trial specialist Tom Dumoulin by 21 seconds over the 17km course from Sallanches to Megeve but even more important was the gap back to the rest of the general classification contenders.
The Team Sky rider took one minute and 25 seconds out of Trek-Segafredo’s Bauke Mollema to stretch his lead to three minutes and 52 seconds, with two mountain stages left before the traditional parade into Paris.
This was Froome’s second stage win of this Tour – and seventh of his career – after he took the yellow jersey with a surprise downhill attack to win stage eight to Bagneres-de-Luchon.
Dumoulin won the other time trial of this Tour, stage 13 to La Caverne du Pont d’Arc, and had been seen as the favourite again here but could not match Froome in the latter part of this course.
The steepest climbs came in the first half of the stage on the Cote de Domancy, but it was after that point that Froome picked up 44 seconds on the Dutchman.
“I really didn’t expect to beat Tom today,” Froome said. “I think pacing was key today. I really started off quite steady and really controlled that first part and then just gave it everything I had over the last part. Really, really happy with that.”
The 31-year-old continues to close in on what would be a third Tour title following his successes in 2013 and 2015.
Eddy Merckx, the five-time Tour winner, called Froome a “great champion” and said he could go on to win many more Tours. “You see the riders who are behind him and I don’t know who can beat him next year,” Merckx said.
“He is complete. He did a good time trial, he is good in the descent. Overall he is the best at the moment and when you are the best of the moment you have to win.”
Adam Yates put in a fine ride and picked up a couple of seconds on Mollema, but while he kept third place overall the vultures are circling around the 23-year-old Briton with Nairo Quintana, Romain Bardet and Richie Porte now all within 45 seconds of him after time gains.
“It is going to be tough,” Yates said of staying in the podium places. “There are a lot of guys to watch, a lot of guys to make sure don’t gain any time. For me, Porte is the main guy. Every day he is looking stronger. If he didn’t have that puncture at the beginning of the race [on stage two] in my opinion he’d be on the podium already.”
Quintana had been expected to be Froome’s biggest rival in this Tour and while he boosted his podium hopes, the Colombian now sits four minutes and 37 seconds off yellow.