BESANCON, France - Overall leader Bradley Wiggins took another important step towards his dream of becoming the first Briton crowned in the Tour de France with an emphatic victory in the race's first major time trial on Monday.

The Team Sky leader clocked 51 minutes and 24 seconds on the winding 41.5-km course between Arc et Senans and Besancon, to leave all his major rivals gasping for air.

Defending Tour champion Cadel Evans now trails Wiggins by 1:53 overall before the first rest day in the race and with the Alps looming.

Vincenzo Nibali, never a specialist against the clock, limited the damage by finishing eighth, 2:07 adrift, but the Italian is already 2:23 behind the Wiggins in the general classification.

Most Tour contenders made it clear a first survey of their chances would be made after the ninth stage but the main lesson learned was that Wiggins's leading rival in the two weeks to come could be in his own ranks.

Fellow Briton Christopher Froome finished second, 35 seconds off the pace. He even beat Olympic and multiple world champion Fabian Cancellara of Switzerland, the prologue winner, by 22 seconds.

Winner of the first mountain stage of this Tour at La Planche des Belles Filles, the Kenyan-born Froome shines on all terrains and could be a match for his team leader, as was the case in the last Spanish Vuelta, when the pair finished second and third.

Froome now stands third overall, 2:07 behind Wiggins. – Reuters