Chris Froome controlled a series of tentative attacks from his rivals as Joaquim Rodriguez won his second stage of this year’s Tour de France on Thursday.
Rodriguez, 36, was part of an original 22-man breakaway that gradually split up over the 195km trek from Lannemezan to Plateau de Beille in changing weather that ranged from 38 degree Celsius heat to 12 degrees with thunder, lightning and hail.
The Spaniard had already won the third stage finish on the Mur de Huy and also had a stage victory back in 2010.
Denmark’s Jakob Fuglsang was second at 1min 12sec with Frenchman Romain Bardet third at 1min 49sec, the pair dropped by Rodriguez on the final 15.8km hors category climb to the finish.
Froome came home in 10th at 6min 47sec amongst his principle rivals, including Nairo Quintana, two-time former winner Alberto Contador and reigning champion Vincenzo Nibali.
Having suffered terribly over the previous two days in the Pyrenees, Italian Nibali had been a shadow of the figure that stormed to victory a year ago, but he was back to his normal self in coming 16th in the same time as Froome.
He was also one of several Froome rivals to attack the 30-year-old Briton as Contador, Quintana and Alejandro Valverde all tried to make the Sky train crack.
But Kenyan-born Froome was expertly marshalled by first Richie Porte and then Geraint Thomas in chasing down those digs, although when Quintana tried, it was Froome himself who took no risks and set off after the diminutive Colombian.
It left Tejay Van Garderen, safely home in 13th, second at 2min 52sec overall with Quintana third at 3min 09sec.
Contador remained sixth at 4min 04sec while Nibali moved up from 11th to ninth at 7min 47sec.
Earlier in the day, the 22-man breakaway group built a maximum 13-minute lead.
On the penultimate first category Port de Lers climb, world champion Michal Kwiatkowski and Sep Vanmarcke broke clear but a seven-man group followed, with Mikael Cherel leading the chase for AG2R teammate Bardet.
Whilst the riders enjoyed bright sunshine, the finish line was being pelted by hail and a massive storm.
Kwiatkowski went alone with just under 14km left as Vanmarcke, a cobbled classics specialist, cracked on the steepest lower slopes of the Plateau.
Rodriguez, Fuglsang and Bardet broke away from the chasers and the Spaniard caught Kwiatkowski with 7.5km left, having already dropped first Bardet and then Fuglsang.
But further down the mountain, Froome’s rivals were trying their luck.
Contador was first to have a go, followed by Nibali and then Valverde but Porte chased down all three.
Quintana was next to try and with Porte dropped, Thomas gave chase before Froome himself put in a dig, only for the Colombian to hunt him down.
Valverde tried a second time, but Thomas reeled him in before Quintana dug in again.
Froome, though, with Contador on his wheel, pulled back the 25-year-old Movistar leader and with 2km to go, the sparring was over and the Briton another step closer to winning his second Tour
Overall standings after the 12th stage of the Tour de France, a 195.0km ride from Lannemezan to Plateau de Beille on Thursday (Top 20):
1. Chris Froome (GBR/SKY) 46h50min 32sec
2. Tejay Van Garderen (USA/BMC) at 2:52.
3. Nairo Quintana (COL/MOV) 3:09.
4. Alejandro Valverde (ESP/MOV) 3:58.
5. Geraint Thomas (WAL/SKY) 4:03.
6. Alberto Contador (ESP/TIN) 4:04.
7. Robert Gesink (NED/LNL) 5:32.
8. Tony Gallopin (FRA/LOT) 7:32.
9. Vincenzo Nibali (ITA/AST) 7:47.
10. Bauke Mollema (NED/TRE) 8:02.
11. Warren Barguil (FRA/GIA) 9:43.
12. Mathias Frank (SWI/IAM) 12:25.
13. Samuel Sanchez (ESP/BMC) 12:53.
14. Jakob Diemer Fuglsang (DEN/AST) 13:33.
15. Joaquim Rodriguez (ESP/KAT) 13:45.
16. Pierre Rolland (FRA/EUC) 13:57.
17. Romain Bardet (FRA/ALM) 17:05.
18. Andrew Talansky (USA/CAN) 19:32.
19. Gorka Izagirre (ESP/MOV) 26:57.
20. Eduardo Sepulveda (ARG/BSE) 28:19.
– Agence France-Presse