Tour de France leader Bradley Wiggins attempted to repay the support of one of his Team Sky colleagues ahead of a record day on Saturday in the yellow jersey.
It is unusual for the maillot jaune to be seen leading out a team-mate in a sprint finish, but that is exactly what Wiggins did for Edvald Boasson Hagen at the end of the 217-kilometre 13th stage from Saint-Paul-Trois-Chateaux to Le Cap d'Agde, only for the Norwegian to be beaten into third place as Andre Greipel won, with Peter Sagan second.
Wiggins finished safely in the bunch, staying two minutes five seconds ahead of compatriot and team-mate Chris Froome, and in retaining the yellow jersey he won last Saturday, the 32-year-old Londoner is set to surpass Chris Boardman's British best of six days on Sunday's first Pyrenean stage, the 191km route from Limoux to Foix, when a breakaway should prosper.
The full strength of Team Sky will be needed as the Tour enters the final week, with attacks certain as Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale), defending champion Cadel Evans (BMC Racing) and Jurgen van den Broeck (Lotto-Belisol) - 2mins 23secs, 3:19 and 4:48 behind, respectively - attempt to overhaul the Team Sky duo.
Froome's support will be key, although question marks remain after his attack on stage 11. Boasson Hagen also has an integral role to play.
Wiggins said: "It was the safest place to be. There was no extra exertion doing the leadout and it was just nice to help Eddy, because I'd like to be able to pay him back in some way."
But Greipel (Lotto-Belisol) won for the third time, equalling the haul of Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale), as the duo proved how big a challenge world champion Mark Cavendish faces in his bid for Olympic road race gold in two weeks' time.
Cavendish rolled in 8:36 behind after being dropped on the 1.6km Mont Saint-Clair, a brutal, short, sharp category three ascent rising out of the coastal town of Sete.
It left Team Sky and Wiggins, who could yet play a crucial role on July 28, despite his Olympic priority being the time-trial on August 1, focusing elsewhere.
"I had asked what the situation was with Cav and when Sean (Yates, the Team Sky sports director) said he wasn't coming back, all our attention turned to Edvald," Wiggins added.
Cavendish has operated without sprint support in the Tour, with Team Sky's attentions focused on Wiggins' bid to become the first Briton on the podium.
On the opening day of London 2012, he will be Britain's leader on a 250km, nine-lap route which features Box Hill in Surrey, but beating Greipel and Sagan is a formidable challenge.
Greipel knows the German team, like Britain, require like-minded squads in a bid to ensure the race finishes in a sprint.
On his success today, Greipel said: "I'm happy that I could stay in front.
"I think Sagan is a really fast guy and that's why he has the green jersey. But we deserve this."
Slovakian Sagan, who leads Greipel by 64 points in the points classification, said: "I don't think he's stronger than me but that's sprinting - one time he wins, another time I win."
The Olympics is Cavendish's 2012 priority, but for now, Wiggins' focus is entirely on the Tour and victory in Paris on July 22.
He survived another day of potential pitfalls.
Michael Morkov (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff), the lone survivor of the day's eight-man Bastille Day escape, which featured five Frenchman, was swept up on Mont Saint-Clair as Evans, Van den Broeck, Wiggins, Froome and Nibali went to the head of the peloton.
Van den Broeck was first over the summit, 23km from the finish, before the exposed coastal run-in.
Splits formed and counter-attacks took place, but Wiggins ended a daring late escape before the sprint finale.
Wiggins added: "It was a day when you really couldn't take your eye off the ball and you had to keep concentrating."
Wiggins had to remain alert in the post-race press conference, once again, when questioned on the subject of doping and whether he would like to be Le Patron, or the 'boss' of the peloton.
It was a reference to Lance Armstrong, who during his seven-year reign of Tour glory, was a dominant voice, but now is under investigation by the United States Anti-Doping Agency for doping offences. He denies all allegations.
Wiggins favours a democratic approach and said he was "too much of a recluse for that", while he would be keen to repeat his bid for transparency by publishing the data from his biological passport.
Wiggins published the record kept to establish any irregularities which might suggest doping practices after finishing fourth in 2009.
He said: "Sometimes I think for certain people whatever you do will never be enough unless they came and lived with me for 12 months, which I'm not prepared for them to do."
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