Bradley Wiggins defended his yellow jersey for a fourth day with fellow Great Britain rider Chris Froome moving into second in the general classification as the Tour de France moved over the Alps.
The Team Sky rider and his colleagues saw off an attack from general classification rival Cadel Evans earlier in the race before Vincenzo Nibali kicked off the group in a thrilling final category 1 climb to La Toussuire, with Chris Froome superbly marshalling Wiggins back to Nibali and ensuring the British Cycling Podium Programme rider maintained his lead as Pierre Rolland made in two stages in two for Europcar with a fine solo breakaway.
It all means Wiggins now leads by 2:05 from Froome, with Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale) up to third, a further 18 seconds behind. Evans is down to fourth, 3:19 adrift of Wiggins.
After the stage, he commented: “At the moment when Froome went ahead, I was just concentrating on my effort and keeping it constant because I'd been riding hard for a kilometre and a half, or two kilometres before that. We came down off a dip and up a climb and I wanted to just clear the lactate more than anything. I didn't want to make any more of an acceleration but there was a lot of noise and a lot of things going on over the radio and there was a bit of confusion at that point as to what we were doing. But [Chris] showed today that he had good legs. And it was another great day for the team, it really was.
“I didn't have a radio at that point as my earpiece had fallen out. But this morning we certainly spoke about Chris maybe attacking in the final and we had already gotten rid of Cadel... but this morning we were planning on him still being there and Chris maybe making up those 20-odd seconds to move into second on GC because he wasn't 100 per cent confident that he'll have the better of Cadel in the last time trial. We wanted to try and get a bit of time today... it was the plan this morning as long as I stayed with Vincenzo and those guys. And Chris didn't drag them away.
“I think that race certainly lived up to the expectation of it being the hardest stage. Even when we got to the last climb and were past seven kilometres to go, the relief started to come because I knew the last three ‘k' of this climb – from the Dauphiné last year – was pretty much rolling flat. Once Cadel got dropped and we were in that little group the sense of relief was slightly overwhelming really. ‘God, we've actually made it – we've got through this stage... and we can tick that one off'. In fact, we've taken more time on Cadel which I don't think we ever expected this morning.
“I was surprised that Cadel attacked on the [Croix de Fer] really because there was a hell of a long way to go from there. We were already riding a pretty strong tempo with still a fair few riders – Richie [Porte] and Mick [Rogers] – and I thought to attack and sustain a high enough tempo to stay away with two climbs still to go... I was surprised. It's not something I would have had the balls to do.
“I think Vincenzo [Nibali] showed today that he has been getting stronger the whole race. His attacks at the end were pretty severe.”
On the day he became the first Briton to wear the yellow jersey for four days in one Tour, Wiggins and his Team Sky squad again produced a show of strength to repel a number of attacks on one of the race's most difficult stages.
It may have been one of the shortest at 148-kilometres but the first day in the Alps from Albertville to La Toussuire featured two hors categorie (beyond category) climbs and ended with an 18km category one ascent.
The fireworks among the overall contenders only really started on the Col du Glandon, the second HC climb, as reigning champion Evans surged past the yellow jersey group and quickly opened up a gap.
The planned move from BMC Racing saw team-mate Tejay van Garderen drop back from up the road to pace Evans and they were able to stretch the advantage out to 30 seconds.
However it soon became apparent that Evans was struggling to match van Garderen's pace while in behind Michael Rogers produced a massive turn on the front to help Team Sky snuff out the danger.
Indeed Rogers ended up setting the tempo for no less than 40km which took Team Sky right into the final climb up to La Toussuire, with Richie Porte taking over at that point.
By then there were only 16 riders still in the yellow jersey group and four of them - Jurgen Van den Broeck (Lotto-Belisol), Janez Brajkovic (Astana), Thibaut Pinot (FDJ-Big Mat) and Nibali - threw down the next challenge to Wiggins as they went off the front in pursuit of Rolland and what was left of the break.
Nibali attacked again going under the 10km banner and briefly put distance between himself and the Team Sky pair.
Froome and Wiggins shared responsibility for the chase but Evans could not sustain the pace and with under 5km to go, Nibali's group was caught.
Soon after Froome accelerated again but reduced the tempo when he realised Wiggins hadn't gone with him before resuming his position in front as the duo increased the advantage over Evans.
With Rolland taking the victory on the day, the battle was on for second and it was stage eight winner Pinot who just pipped Froome, the pair 55 seconds behind Rolland and a couple of seconds in front of Van den Broeck, Nibali and Wiggins.
Stage 11: Albertville - La Toussuire - Les Sybelles 148km
1. Pierre Rolland (Fra) Team Europcar 4:43:54
2. Thibaut Pinot (Fra) FDJ-Big Mat 0:00:55
3. Christopher Froome (GBr) Sky Procycling
4. Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Bel) Lotto Belisol Team 0:00:57
5. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale
6. Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Sky Procycling
7. Chris Anker Sörensen (Den) Team Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank 0:01:08
8. Janez Brajkovic (Slo) Astana Pro Team 0:01:58
9. Vasili Kiryienka (Blr) Movistar Team 0:02:13
10. Frank Schleck (Lux) RadioShack-Nissan 0:02:23
11. Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC Racing Team
12. Tejay van Garderen (USA) BMC Racing Team
General Classification after stage 11
1. Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Sky Procycling 48:43:53
2. Christopher Froome (GBr) Sky Procycling 0:02:05
3. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale 0:02:23
4. Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC Racing Team 0:03:19
5. Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Bel) Lotto Belisol Team 0:04:48
6. Haimar Zubeldia Agirre (Spa) RadioShack-Nissan 0:06:15
7. Tejay van Garderen (USA) BMC Racing Team 0:06:57
8. Janez Brajkovic (Slo) Astana Pro Team 0:07:30
9. Pierre Rolland (Fra) Team Europcar 0:08:31
10. Thibaut Pinot (Fra) FDJ-Big Mat 0:08:51