Alexandre Vinokourov powered his way back into Tour de France contention with a stunning victory in the 54km individual time-trial on stage 13.
Vinokourov topped all five time checks and won by 1 min 14 secs
The pre-race favourite climbed 10 spots to ninth after finishing in a time of one hour six minutes 35 seconds.
Cadel Evans came home second with Andreas Kloden in third after Briton Bradley Wiggins had set the early benchmark before finishing fifth.
Evans moved up to second, but Michael Rasmussen held on to the yellow jersey.
The Dane, a renowned climbing specialist, was widely expected to surrender his overall lead.
But he put in a storming ride of his own to finish 11th on the road in and out of Albi, which took in two hills.
Rasmussen, reflecting on his chances of staying in yellow going into the day, said: "I thought I had a fair chance, but from thinking to doing that can be a long way.
"I was a bit in trouble in the first 15km, but in the last 30km I did very well.
"For the next time-trial I need a little more time than I had today and I need to take out time on my nearest competitors."
Those rivals are led by Australian Evans, who is a minute adrift, and Kloden in third.
But with the top 12 covered by less than six minutes Rasmussen can expect attacks from left, right and centre over the course of the three stages in the Pyrenees before next Saturday's time-trial in the penultimate stage.
It all means the Tour is set up for a thrilling final week after an excellent first time-trial.
Wiggins set the standard early on and a downpour looked set to help his chances of taking a first stage win in the Tour.
Potential challenger Fabian Cancellara crashed heavily in treacherous conditions, and the greasy roads also claimed Vladimir Gusev, Yaroslav Popovych and Kloden in falls that dented their pride and momentum.
By the time Kloden hit the tarmac the target to chase on the clock had been set by his team-mate Vinokourov.
The Kazakhstani rider had been in the wars earlier in the race himself, but here he was back to his best to take a fourth Tour stage win and move to within five minutes 10 seconds of Rasmussen, having started the day more than eight minutes adrift.
"I wanted to prove to myself and to everyone else that my days aren't over yet on this year's Tour," he said after winning by a margin of one minute 14 seconds.
"We have days in the Pyrenees and I can still close the gap. They were a bit quick in saying I couldn't win this Tour."
Vinokourov's Astana team are well placed in the overall standings with Kloden fourth and Andriy Kashechkin sixth, after they finished third and fourth respectively.
Discovery can also boast two riders in the top five of the general classification in Alberto Contador and Levi Leipheimer.
Spanish duo Alejandro Valverde and Iban Mayo, who started the day second and third, tumbled out of the top 10.
But the day's big loser was French favourite Christophe Moreau. The winner of the Dauphine Libere finished nine minutes 26 seconds down and is now 23rd overall, more than 13 minutes off the pace.
Stage 13 result:
Individual time-trial, Albi to Albi, 54km
1. Alexandre Vinokourov (Kaz) Astana) 1 hour 6 mins 43 secs
2. Cadel Evans (Aus) Predictor - Lotto @ 1 min 14 secs
3. Andreas Kloden (Ger) Astana @ 1 mins 39 secs
4. Andriy Kashechkin (Kaz) Astana @ 1 min 44 secs
5. Bradley Wiggins (GB) Cofidis @ 2 mins 14 secs
6. Yaroslav Popovych (Ukr) Discovery @ 2 mins 16 secs
7. Alberto Contador (Spa) Discovery @ 2 mins 18 secs
8. Sylvain Chavanel (Fra) Cofidis @ 2 mins 38 secs
9. Levi Leipheimer (USA Discovery Channel @ 2 mins 39 secs
10. Mikel Astarloza (Spa) Euskaltel @ 2 mins 42 secs
11. Michael Rasmussen (Den) Rabobank @ 2 mins 55 secs
20. David Millar (GB) Saunier Duval @ 3 mins 27 secs
46. Iban Mayo (Spa) Saunier Duval @ 6 mins 4 secs
47. Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne @ 6 mins 8 secs
52. Geraint Thomas (GB) Barloworld @ 6 mins 48 secs
104. Charlie Wegelius (GB) Liquigas @ 8 mins 37 secs
107. Fabian Cancellara (Swi) Team CSC @ 8 mins 45 secs
1. Michael Rasmussen (Den) Rabobank 58 hrs 46 mins 39 secs
2. Cadel Evans (Aus) Predictor - Lotto @ 1 min
3. Alberto Contador (Spa) Discovery @ 2 mins 31 secs
4. Andreas Kloden (Ger) Astana @ 2 mins 34 secs
5. Levi Leipheimer (USA) Discovery @ 3 mins 37 secs
6. Andriy Kashechkin (Kaz) Astana @ 4 mins 23 secs
7. Carlos Sastre (Spa) Team CSC @ 4 mins 45 secs
8. Mikel Astarloza (Spa) Euskaltel @ 5 mins 7 secs
9. Alexandre Vinokourov (Kaz) Astana @ 5 mins 10 secs
10. Kim Kirchen (Lux) T-Mobile @ 5 mins 29 secs
11. Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne @ 5 mins 48 secs
12. Iban Mayo (Spa) Saunier Duval @ same time
23. Christophe Moreau (Fra) AG2R @ 13 mins 9 secs
83. David Millar (GB) Saunier Duval @ 1 hr 10 mins 39 secs
88. Charlie Wegelius (GB) Liquigas @ 1 hr 12 mins 40 secs
135. Bradley Wiggins (GB) Cofidis @ 1 hr 37 mins 2 secs
161. Geraint Thomas (GB) Barloworld @ 1 hr 54 mins 40 secs