World champion Thor Hushovd led his Norwegian compatriot Edvald Boasson Hagen across the line to win stage 16 on Tuesday.
Hushovd claimed his second individual stage win of the Tour, as the contenders for the yellow jersey battled ahead of three demanding stages in the Alps.
"It was a bit like the Norwegian championship," Hushovd told reporters. The weather, undoubtedly, suited the Norwegian riders as the Tour eased back towards the mountains. Winter returned to the south of France, as fresh snow hindered the riders but Hushovd held off Boasson Hagen in the final sprint to add to his thirteenth stage victory in Lourdes.
"It was extraordinary to find myself in the finale with my team mate Ryder Hesjedal, who did a great job and my friend and countryman Boasson-Hagen," he said.
"It's a super Tour de France for me," he added. "At the start of the race I was very strong and I was disappointed not to win in Lisieux, but I got the yellow jersey. And after that I was in the breaks for my two stage wins. For the moment, everything's going very well."
Alberto Contador reminded the other contenders that he was far from finished with a strong display in the 162.5km run to Gap. The three-times Tour champion cut away from the pack with 15km to go and worked his way down the second category Col de Manse in four separate attacks.
Cadel Evans was the only rider capable of keeping pace with Contador and the Australian came out the other side of the Rochette descent 4mins and 23 seconds behind Hushovd.
A strong finish from Evans saw him finish two seconds ahead of Contador and Spain's Samuel Sanchez. Thomas Voeckler retained the yellow jersey but lost 21 seconds to Evans, who now lies second in the general classification, 1min 45 seconds behind the Frenchman, with the Schleck brothers in third and fourth ahead of Sanchez, Contador and Basso.
"I'm glad. I had the impression the legs were doing better than in previous days and that's why on a day like this I had to try my luck," Contador said.
Voeckler delivered a customarily downbeat assessment of his chances ahead of another tough 179km ride to Pinerolo.
"I think that today I showed my limits because this stage is normally a good one for me and I had good legs," he said.