Cadel Evans (BMC) made his intention clear with a daring attack on stage 11 of the Tour de France to La Toussuire, but the defending champion ended the stage with his Tour chances hanging by a thread after he dropped back on the final climb.
The Australian started the stage in second place on general classification, 1:53 down on race leader Bradley Wiggins (Sky), but after the first mountain finish, the defending champion sits in fourth, 3:19 down on the Sky leader.
Evans was the first of the big favourites to try and unsettle Sky. It was well executed and daring, but in the end a futile strategy. Amaël Moinard, who had been in the day's early break, sat up. In the main peloton of favourites, Tejay van Garderen attacked on the lower slopes of the Col du Glandon. Sky seemed untroubled but would have been wary of the threat. The sight of Evans attacking next was certainly unexpected, especially with over 60 kilometres to go.
The move shattered the bunch as Sky attempted to react and to keep Evans in check. At one point, the yellow jersey group contained just Wiggins, Michael Rogers, Richie Porte, Chris Froome, Vicenzo Nibali, Thibaut Pinot, Jurgen Van den Broeck, and Janez Brajkovic as the trio of BMC merged up ahead.
"We were trying to rattle Wiggins a little, to try and isolate him from his team and put his team under pressure," van Garderen said at the finish.
However when Moinard was dropped, there were signs that Evans wasn't in his best form. Van Garderen, riding his best ever stage in the mountains pressed on, distancing his captain briefly. Behind, Sky were able to control the situation, the gap never threatening to dislodge yellow from Wiggins's shoulders.
The move was neutralised and by the lower slopes of the La Toussuire. Evans was unable to launch a second move when Nibali and van den Broeck both attacked. Inside the final kilometres, Evans could not match the pace set by Froome and Wiggins, and although van Garderen was able to help pace, for Evans, the damage had already been done.
"Hats off to Wiggins. He kept his cool and stayed behind his guys and slowly pulled us back. I think it was the perfect day to launch a move because Sky was a little but under pressure. It's just a pity Cadel wasn't on his best day," van Garderen said.
"Before he lost contact, I said if you have the legs you should go because Wiggins is looking a little isolated and then next thing you know he was coming of the back, and I was thinking this wasn't the plan. I did my best to try and pace him and limit our loses."
Evans retreated to the team hotel at the finish, unwilling to talk to the press, a shame after a gutsy ride that although cost him time, will have won him many plaudits.
Team manager Jim Ochowicz was on hand though and admitted that while the strategy helped Sky's position on GC, and eliminated a number of rivals, the Tour was not over for Evans and that yellow in Paris was still possible.
"We had to test ourselves to see if we could either launch an attack or hold it or do it again. If we hadn't done that I think we'd be going into the Pyrenees thinking what do we do next? It was a strategy, it didn't work, we tried," he told Cyclingnews.
"In the end, our strategy didn't work. We've got no bragging rights but we made an effort that needed to be done."