Defending Tour de France champion Alberto Contador punched the air in celebration at the end of yesterday's fourth stage in Brittany — despite being beaten to victory.
Spaniard Contador, racing despite being the subject of a Court of Arbitration for Sport hearing next month into his failed drugs test at last year's Tour, thought he had won the 172.5-kilometre route from Lorient to Mur-de-Bretagne, but Cadel Evans (BMC Racing) prevailed by a tyre's width.
Contador (Saxo Bank-SunGard) now sits in 41st place, still one minute 42 seconds behind race leader Thor Hushovd (Garmin-Cervelo) but eight seconds closer to 2009 and 2010 Tour runner-up Andy Schleck (Leopard Trek), who is ninth.
Hushovd (pictured) finished in the 10-man leading group alongside Evans and Contador, with Team Sky leader Bradley Wiggins six seconds behind in 11th place and his team-mate Geraint Thomas, David Millar (Garmin-Cervelo) and Schleck among those two seconds further back.
Millar is now fourth overall, eight seconds behind his team-mate Hushovd, with Wiggins sixth, two seconds further back, and Thomas seventh.
Contador, champion in 2007, 2009 and 2010, maintains his positive test for clenbuterol was a result of contaminated meat and protests his innocence, but his participation in the sport's biggest race is controversial.
The Spaniard, favourite ahead of the Tour, has endured a difficult start, losing time on Saturday's opening stage and in Sunday's team time-trial, and would not be a popular winner of the yellow jersey.
After chipping away at his deficit to his overall rivals, Contador was content, but he is doubtful about his chances of another Tour success on July 24.
The 28-year-old, who won May's Giro d'Italia, said: “It was a very important day, very good for my morale — now I've been able to show myself again.
“It's good to get time, even if it's just seven or eight seconds.
“I obviously didn't have a good start and I wanted to win today for the team and the fans.
“I don't know if I can win this race overall or not.
“There are other riders who have had a better approach to it than me, like Andy Schleck, like Cadel Evans.”
Wiggins could be considered in the same light after entering the Tour following wins in the Dauphine Libere and the British Championships.
Wiggins, bidding to better his fourth-place finish in 2009, lost time to fellow podium hopefuls Contador, Evans and Frank Schleck, but was satisfied with his day's work.
The 31-year-old Londoner said: “I conceded a few seconds at the top, but gained on others.
“In three weeks' time that's not going to mean much. I'm pretty happy.
“I feel nice and strong. These stages are about staying safe, not giving much away,” he added.
Team Sky's Geraint Thomas performed well as Wiggins' lieutenant, retaining the white jersey for best young rider.
HTC-Highroad racer Mark Cavendish, though, again appeared to struggle during the intermediate sprint, losing out on the points in his bid for the green jersey.
The Manxman will be eager to make amends on today's 164.5km fifth stage from Carhaix to Cap Frehel, which is anticipated to end in a sprint finish.