BMC's Tejay van Garderen put in a top-class performance on the Tour de France's last stage in the mountains on Thursday to finish in fifth place, taking time out of many of his rivals on the 18th stage.
Although he remains in sixth place overall, the American kept pace with the group of main contenders, which included Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) and Ag2r's Jean-Christophe Péraud, who are now in second and third place overall, respectively. Stage winner - and race leader - Vincenzo Nibali (Astana), meanwhile, was too good for anyone to match, and took the victory at the summit finish at Hautacam by 1:10 from Pinot to now lead the Frenchman by 7:10.
Van Garderen is now likely to turn in a good time trial performance on the 20th stage disputed over 54 kilometres between Bergerac and Périgueux on Saturday, but a place on the podium now looks like a step too far for him.
"I just had it in my mind that 'this is the last mountain before the end of the Tour, so if you're going to do something you have to do it today'," said van Garderen.
The American upped the pace with six kilometres to go on the final climb, but Pinot and Péraud proved impossible to shake.
"When I was setting a hard tempo, I would look back and Pinot always looked pretty easy on my wheel," said van Garderen. "He's shown a number of times in this Tour that's he's more explosive than me, so I couldn't really get a gap and couldn't really grind him off my wheel because he's so strong."
Van Garderen was, however, able to finish the stage 38 seconds ahead of French fans' favourite Romain Bardet (Ag2r), who, despite having had a fantastic race, also now looks unlikely to be able to finish on the podium.
Bardet is in fifth place overall, just over two minutes behind fourth-placed Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), but also just over two minutes ahead of van Garderen, in sixth.
"We had three riders with Tejay at the top of the Col du Tourmalet and all the guys did a good job helping him," said BMC directeur sportif Yvon Ledanois. "Tejay also did a very good job on the last climb, taking time from Bardet, which was good for his morale before the time trial."
"Tejay did what he is capable of doing; he's been doing it all week," added teammate, Peter Stetina, who has worked hard for his team leader in the mountains, and helped pace him on the final climb on Thursday. "He's consistent, he's steady, and I think he can have a good time trial in two days' time."