Bradley Wiggins ended a mountainous eighth stage of the Tour de France one minute and 45 seconds adrift of Andy Schleck after the Saxo Bank rider had outsprinted Samuel Sánchez for victory at the summit finish in Avoriaz.
Wiggins gave it all he had as the race entered the Alps and kept pace with all the main general classification contenders up until the final three kilometres, but then fell gradually back off the pace and was guided to the line in 19th position by team-mate Thomas Löfkvist.
Alberto Contador, Ivan Basso, Carlos Sastre and Cadel Evans were all present in a nine-man group who ended the day 10 seconds behind Schleck, and Evans was also celebrating after taking the yellow jersey from Sylvain Chavanel.
The world champion now holds a 20 second lead over Schleck in the general classification, with Contador a further 41 seconds adrift in third. Wiggins sits in 14th place overall, 2:45 back.
Lance Armstrong endured a torrid day in the saddle and crashed three times before cracking on the penultimate climb of the day. The American's bid for an eighth Tour victory now appears all but over after he crossed the line 11:45 off the pace.
Evans, Schleck and polka dot jersey holder Jérôme Pineau (Quick-Step) were also caught up in the first of those crashes but everyone was back on their bikes by the time a seven-man break moved clear soon after.
That group had built a six-minute advantage as they made it onto Col de la Ramaz but Amaël Moinard (Cofidis), Koos Moerenhout (Rabobank) and Mario Aerts (Omega Pharma - Lotto) pressed ahead on that first-category climb, just as Armstrong had suffered his second tumble behind.
The lead trio's advantage dropped gradually as the 189km stage wore on and Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha) jumped from the Astana-led chase pack and passed them as they pressed on towards the final ascent up to Morzine and Avoriaz.
Rodríguez would be hauled back himself with 5.5km to go, and from then on it was survival of the fittest before Schleck picked his moment to shine.
Afterwards Wiggins said: "I felt pretty good for most of the day, especially on the second-to-last climb. But just as we went up the last climb I just couldn't hold on at the end.
"There came a point where I just had to back off because otherwise I would have completely exploded. It just became a damage limitation exercise from that point in."
"I've struggled with the weather the last few days but I did my best and that's all you can do in that situation.
"I'm happy to admit that I wasn't quite good enough today, but there's still a lot of the race left so we'll see what happens."
Armstrong was philosophical about his disappointing day, and said: "My Tour's finished but I'm not going to complain. This was just a bad day - It went from bad to worse."
Schleck though, was delighted by his own performance: "I felt very, very good. I had a tactic and I wanted to keep to it. The tactic wasn't to go for it today but I take a lot of confidence from the result.
"I've just got to thank my team for everything they've done today. I'm going to be there for them and they're going to be there for me.
"The preparation has been right for this Tour. I'm in very good shape, and yes, I'm confident."