Tour de France leader Chris Froome tightened his grip on the yellow jersey after finishing second on the 11th stage time trial won by world champion Tony Martin on Wednesday.
Martin had set the early pace for a windswept 33 km course from Avranches to Mont Saint Michel in 36min 29sec but had a nervous wait as Froome threatened to upset his hopes of victory.
In the end Team Sky's leader Froome came home in second place at 12secs adrift but finished more than two minutes ahead of principal rival, two-time champion Alberto Contador of Spain.
"It was a long wait," said Martin, who started 65th from the 182 starters.
Belgium's Tomas De Gendt, of Vacansoleil, was closest to challenge Martin before Froome went but was 1min 01sec slower than the German at the finish line to end up third.
Martin admitted he was surprised to see Froome challenge his mark.
"At the start I was quite sure I would hold on because I had a good lead on Thomas De Gendt. I didn't think Froome would get so close," he added.
As Martin watched nervously from the hot seat, Team Sky leader Froome came home in second place at 12secs adrift.
However the Kenyan-born Briton's effort meant he finished more than two minutes ahead of principal rival, two-time champion Alberto Contador of Spain,
and his compatriot Alejandro Valverde.
Contador, considered Froome's biggest rival ahead of four tough stages in the Alps beginning Sunday, could only finish 15th at 2:15.
He jumped up two places to fourth overall but has gone from being 1:51 behind to 3:54 in arrears.
Fellow Spaniard Alejandro Valverde began the day at 1:25 behind Froome but despite remaining in second place overall the Movistar team leader is now 3:25 behind Froome
Froome, who won Olympic time trial bronze in London last year, said he had achieved what he set out to do.
"I'm very happy with the time I set. The objective today was to try and take the maximum time possible from my rivals," he said. "I hope to keep it in the next days."
Earlier in the race British rider Mark Cavendish had urine thrown in his face by a spectator.
The incident happened during the 33-kilometre individual time-trial from Avranches to Mont-Saint-Michel in Normandy, a day after Cavendish was blamed for a collision that sent Argos rider Tom Veelers crashing to the ground in Saint-Malo.
"Probably some spectators were not very pleased with what happened yesterday and they yelled to him and then one other idiot threw urine at him," Omega Pharma team CEO Patrick Lefevere told AFP.
"Mark is not upset, but he is really disappointed because he thinks he didn't deserve this."