Frenchman Blel Kadri became the first home winner of a Tour de France stage this year as he claimed victory at Gerardmer on Saturday.
Alberto Contador took second in the 161km eighth stage from Tomblaine to snatch back a handful of seconds on Vincenzo Nibali, who retained the yellow jersey after coming over the line in third.
Kadri, 27, was part of a five-man breakaway that finally managed to stay away after a breakneck first 30km that prevented several previous attempts from sticking.
The Ag2R rider countered an attack from compatriot and fellow-escapee Sylvain Chavanel on the first of three categorised climbs and from then on he simply rode away from the rest of the breakaway.
Behind him, Contador's Tinkoff-Saxo team turned up the heat as the Spanish two-time winner looked to gain back some time on Nibali.
The Italian matched him all the way up the final, brutal 1.8km climb at an average gradient of 10.3 per cent until the final 100m where Contador stretched ahead.
He picked up only three seconds but the psychological effect of knowing he could finally drop Nibali, albeit only just at the end, will have boosted Contador's confidence.
Behind them Richie Porte, the new Team Sky leader after reigning champion Chris Froome's abandonment on Wednesday, came in four seconds behind Nibali.
The final climb provided the first indication of who will fight for the overall title and Contador, Nibali and Porte gave a strong sign that they may well occupy the podium in Paris.
None of the breakaway riders in Saturday's stage threatened Nibali's yellow jersey.