Halfway through the Tour de France, Chris Froome appears unstoppable after pulverizing his main rivals in the time trial.
Although Froome missed out on his second stage win of the centenary Tour by 12 seconds to winner Tony Martin of Germany, second place on stage 11 still felt like a big victory for the British rider since all of his challengers were at least two minutes slower than him.
"My biggest race today was with the other GC riders," Froome said. "I've extended my lead so I'm very happy with that."
Spanish rider Alejandro Valverde is still in second place overall but 3 minutes, 25 seconds adrift of Froome, while Alberto Contador improved to fourth but is 3:54 behind.
Meanwhile, the 2010 Tour champ Andy Schleck and 2011 winner Cadel Evans lost massive time and may not want to look at the results.
"I'm happy with my shape," Froome said. "I think I've shown in the mountains that I can hold my own, and time trial also."
As the two-time world time trial champion, Martin did not disappoint over the 33-kilometer (20.5-mile) route in Normandy from Avranches to the breathtaking island citadel of Mont-Saint-Michel.
"Hats off to Tony Martin," Froome said. "It just goes to show what class he has."
Froome was quicker over the first two time splits but slowed down in the last section and Martin won in just over 36 minutes.
"I'm not sad at all with that," said Froome, who also finished second behind countryman Bradley Wiggins on last year's longer time trial. "I gave that time trial everything I had."
He was the only rider to get within a minute of Martin, with Belgian Thomas De Gendt 1:01 behind in third.
Martin's win was even more special considering that he lost consciousness on his team bus after his heavy crash on stage 1. The accident was so bad that his left lung was bruised and layers of skin were shredded off his back.
"At night, I couldn't sleep either on my left or right sides or on my back," Martin said.
He was not the only one having sleepless nights.
His mother Bettina Martin said at the finish line of his first-day crash, "I was very shocked, very worried, and needed a long time before I was back to normal again."
Still, nothing would deter Martin, who won the penultimate stage of the 2011 Tour, also a time trial, and finished second to Wiggins in the time trial at the London Olympics.
"The goal was always to continue the Tour de France because it's a big honor," Martin said. "When doctors said 'OK,' I kept the focus on today's stage. I knew I would not be 100 percent for the team time trial (last week), but I had a good chance to recover for today.
"There are still some deeper wounds that are left to heal but it's not that painful anymore."
Others had a more painful day.
Contador looked stern-faced and tense when he prepared to start - and with good reason. The Spaniard finished in 15th place, 2:15 behind Martin; Evans was 2:30 slower, and Schleck finished 4:44 behind Martin.
"No one's won the Tour de France yet and no one's lost it. We have to get to Paris yet," Contador said, perhaps more in hope than conviction. "Chris Froome is in impressive form and is a great climber, but there are still many stages left."
Even though Evans is 6:54 behind Froome in 14th place, he has not given up, either.
"I think we will get a few chances," the Australian said. "In the last four days (of the race) we will give everything."
The team of Mark Cavendish, winner of the fifth stage, believes someone threw urine at the British rider along the route.
"To do something disrespectful like that is really sad and ruins the whole atmosphere," Froome said.
Thursday's 12th stage is one of two consecutive flat days for sprinters, taking the riders on a 218-kilometer (135.5-mile) route from Fougeres to Tours in the Loire valley, a picturesque region peppered with imposing, ancient chateaux, and vineyards.
Froome will already be thinking of Sunday's daunting ascent up Mont Ventoux - another chance to crush his wilting rivals.
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