Tour de France leader Bradley Wiggins retained the yellow jersey for a 10th day after surviving repeated attacks on stage 16 in the Pyrenees.
The 197-kilometre route from Pau to Bagneres-de-Luchon was won by Thomas Voeckler (Europcar), but Wiggins moved a step closer to overall victory by repelling attempted assaults from Vincenzo Nibali.
Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale) began the day two minutes 23 seconds behind and accelerated away from Wiggins on the day’s fourth and final climb, the Col de Peyresourde, the top of which came 15.5km from the end of the stage.
But Wiggins, with support from Team Sky colleague Chris Froome, kept the Italian within sight and reeled him in – the trio finishing 7mins 9secs behind Voeckler. Chorley-based Wiggins retained a 2.05 lead over Froome, with Nibali 18 seconds further adrift.
The Italian appears to be the only realistic challenger to a Team Sky and British victory.
Defending champion Cadel Evans (BMC Racing) began the day 3.19 behind, but struggled going uphill and was cast adrift as Wiggins moved within four days of top spot on the Paris podium, with today’s 143.5km 17th stage from Bagneres-de-Luchon to the summit at Peyragudes the biggest obstacle to a first British Tour triumph.
Voeckler led over the summit of the Col d’Aubisque before Irishman Dan Martin (Garmin-Sharp) initiated the move which saw the breakaway group disintegrate on the lower ramps of the 19km ascent of the Col du Tourmalet, the day’s second hors categorie (beyond category) climb.