Alberto Contador's acceleration on the Port de Balès, the fourth of six categorized climbs of stage 12, did not amount to anything as the Team Sky-led peloton slowly closed him back, but it was the first aggression from the former two-time Tour de France winner, and an important display of his fighting spirit, still intact even after all his crashes.
Contador pushed aside the pain on the hors catégorie climb. And attacked.
It was little more than a token move, but a crucial one at that: it exposed a battered but proud champion that was still willing to try and split the race apart.
"The reason I attacked was that we were there with still eight men of Sky and I think that at the least it was good to move a little the situation," explained Contador. "After this, they remained four, but it's really complicated to break the race with a so strong a team."
After crashing in stage 9 and enduring two more crashes in stage 11, a huge question mark shrouded Contador for Thursday's first foray into the Pyrenees, a long 214-kilometer stage with six categorized climbs.
Ahead of the start, Contador cautioned that it was a day for him to survive, pointing to his left knee and right hip as two areas giving him the most problems from his crashes. "Yes, the idea is to pass the day as well as possible and thinking on next days," he said at the start of stage 12.
But you cannot hold back the heart of a legend.
"Today has been a hard day I tried to pass it as well as possible, and until the last moment I have been there, but it was hard to follow. I've been better than expected because this morning I felt very, very bad, but I'm not happy either," said Contador.
"It's quite normal, this morning when I woke up I was not [feeling] like the other days, but it is like this."
Long before Contador's acceleration on the Port de Balès, the stage began as always: a set of furious attacks until a breakaway formed that the peloton was content with and finally let go. When the move materialized, Koen de Kort had wrestled himself into the 12 men that unleased from the bunch.
De Kort stayed with the breakaway group until their camaraderie ended on the long climb of the Port de Balès. Distanced from the better climbers in the escape group, de Kort continued to ride a good pace until caught by the yellow jersey group that included his teammate.
"We had the plan to go in the breakaway today, so it was a good thing I was there. In fact, we hoped that our climbers could be there as well, but that didn't work out. We also had hoped a bigger group than just 12 riders could go, but that didn't work out either," said de Kort.
"If we had had a group of 20-25 with one or two more of our guys, it would have been perfect. But yeah anyway it was good to have someone in the break. I am tired, for sure, but mainly because of the first part of the race and all the work I had done in the breakaway, and then I kept going because I wanted to help Alberto out. I still had some gels and bidons for him so that I could give him those."
Koen gave the last support he could and called it a day, while Alberto pressed ahead and made it until the final 500 meters of the penultimate climb - five kilometers from the end of the stage - before coming off the back of the favorites group.
He crossed the line, empty, in 14th place, and although he moved up one spot in the overall to 11th place, he had lost two more minutes to the top of the classification.
"I finished today at the limit, thinking only to put ice on some parts of my body. I have to think more on a stage victory now; the GC is almost impossible. Also, because it is not only a question of time, but I'm not in optimal condition and tomorrow is also a hard day," said Contador.
"The change of leader can give a different feeling to the race," he continued about the change in the yellow jersey after today. "Now I'm a little far away [in GC], but I think there also can be some different tactics," he added, then said, "Anyway, tomorrow will be another day."