Froome’s time of 36 minutes 41 seconds was 12 seconds off that of Omega Pharma-Quick Step’s world time trial champion Tony Martin, but Froome was more concerned with strengthening his grip on the yellow jersey and duly did so by taking two minutes out of Alejandro Valverde and Alberto Contador.
Froome was the only general classification contender in the top ten, and now leads Valverde by three minutes 25 seconds overall.
“I’m really happy with how that stage went,” the 28-year-old said. “A time trial is always one of those really nervous days for a general classification rider.
“There are a lot of things that could go wrong, but I was really happy to get through today with the time I had and having extended my lead on the other GC riders.”
Time trials were the key to Sir Bradley Wiggins becoming the first ever British Tour winner last year, and while Froome is not a specialist like his Team Sky team-mate, he is significantly stronger in the discipline than his main rivals here and he made it count today.
Valverde lost exactly two minutes on Froome as he finished 13th, despite pushing so hard he almost rode into a wall along the way, with Contador another two seconds back in 15th.
There was even more encouragement for Froome as Richie Porte, who lost more than 17 minutes on Sunday’s stage to ride out of contention, finished fourth to suggest he is back in form and ready to play a supporting role.
Martin, who took Olympic time trial silver behind Wiggins and ahead of third-placed Froome last year, was the favourite today despite suffering an injury on the opening stage which – in the words of team-mate Cavendish – “took half his skin off”. But he still endured an anxious wait with Froome, the last man out on the course in the yellow jersey, ahead by just one or two seconds at each of the intermediate time checks.
“To be honest, I’d almost given up hope of the stage win,” the German said. “It was starting to look very disappointing when I saw Chris beat my times at the intermediate check. I nearly started to cry. I couldn’t believe it. Now I’m really happy and maybe it’s nicer to win this way.”
Martin’s victory gave Omega Pharma-Quick Step cause for celebration last night after Cavendish endured a rough ride on the 33km course from Avranches, jeered and whistled by some fans before being sprayed with urine by another. The incident came with many fans still blaming Cavendish for a crash with Tom Veelers on Tuesday’s stage 10 to Saint-Malo.
Cavendish will have two opportunities to cut into the lead held by Peter Sagan in the battle for the green jersey over the next two days, as the race heads south east towards the Alps, with today’s stage 12 to Tours and tomorrow’s stage 13 to Saint-Amand-Montrond both designed for the sprinters.
That is good news too for Froome, who is hoping for a little help at the front of the peloton as he looks to protect his lead until the mountains.