Bauke Mollema successfully defended his second place in the general classification after a 17-kilometer mostly uphill time trial Thursday, finishing in a time of 32 minutes and 8 seconds for 17th place.
Mollema slipped behind his rivals at the first checkpoint after the flattest part of the course, but slowly chipped away the deficit as the road steepened.
When Mollema crossed the line, he had clawed back 23 seconds to third placed Adam Yates (Orica BikeExchange), finishing only two seconds slower to maintain his position on the leaderboard.
Mollema finished close to most his rivals. Only Chris Froome (Sky), who won the race against the clock and increased his lead in yellow, and Richie Porte (BMC), 52 seconds quicker than Mollema, made significant gains in the uphill test.
"It was a good day for me, especially in the end I could do a good pace," said Mollema, satisfied with his effort. "The second part went best for me. It was a very, very hard time trial and I gave it my all. I feel good, and I am ready for the next days. The legs were fine today, not fantastic, but better than yesterday.
"I lost some valuable time on some rivals. My feeling in the first TT was different, and I knew this one would be harder. The pure climbers like Porte are better suited for this one."
The time trial started with a flat three kilometers, and after the next steep uphill kilometers again panned out with a level road for around a kilometer before climbing again. The varying nature of the parcours had some riders opting for time trial bikes, while others chose road bikes with aero bars.
Mollema opted to use his Trek Emonda road bike outfitted with a light disc wheel and clip-on aero bars, a choice that may have lost him some seconds at the start, but gaining them back in the steep gradients that followed.
I guess Froome is out of sight now. But with five guys within 1 minute and 8 seconds, it will be fierce between us.
Mollema: "I really thought well about the equipment choices for today. I think it was the best set-up for me. I have been training on this bike already; it's a super light bike – close to 6.8 kilos for a mountain TT like this and still having a good position for climbing – so I think I made the right choice."
Two tough days in the Alps remain, and while yellow may have ridden out of reach today, the battle for the minor steps of the podium will be an enormous and exciting fight.
"I guess Froome is out of sight now," exclaimed Mollema. "But with five guys within 1 minute and 8 seconds, it will be fierce between us. It all became more exciting, unfortunately for me, though," he smiled, then said: "But it's definitely better to be in my spot than 5th; I'm healthy and feel good."