Evans’ reign over; Wiggins’ nearing its beginning
BAGNERES-DE-LUCHON, France – Cadel Evans’ vision of repeating as Tour de France champion vanished under the sun-baked punishment of the Pyrenees mountains on Wednesday, as Bradley Wiggins took another step toward taking the yellow jersey home.
French fan favorite Thomas Voeckler took a starring role in big climbs along the Spanish border, winning Stage 16 in a breakaway as Wiggins kept his big rivals at bay.
“It’s pretty much the Tour de France over for me,” Evans said.
The 35-year-old Australian fell from fourth to seventh overall and trails Wiggins by 8 minutes, 6 seconds, after struggling on the last two of four climbs in the stage. He cited stomach problems.
“When you have it two hours before the race, there’s not a lot you can do,” Evans said.
As if the four ascents weren’t hard enough, cycling’s big event was also trying to get over the re-emergence of another longtime challenge: The doping-marred image that has hung over the sport.
Late Tuesday, Frank Schleck of the RadioShack team was sent packing after cycling’s governing body, UCI, said an anti-doping lab’s test on his urine turned up a banned diuretic. The 32-year-old Luxembourg rider placed third at last year’s Tour.
Two big final shakedowns in the race await in Thursday’s stage in the Pyrenees, which features an uphill finish, and Saturday’s time trial, though other pratfalls and pitfalls could await.
Wednesday’s stage went a long way toward shaping up the likeliest Tour podium when the race ends Sunday in Paris: Wiggins, Sky teammate Christopher Froome and Vincenzo Nibali of Italy. They all gained key breathing space by beating their 10 closest chasers by about 1, 2 or 5 minutes.
“It was obvious that Nibali, ‘Wiggo’ and Froome were a notch above my group … Sky is looking incredible,” said Tejay Van Garderen, an American who at sixth eclipsed Evans as the top-ranked rider for the BMC Racing team.
Voeckler dominated the 123-mile course from Pau to Bagneres-de-Luchon, the Frenchman leading a breakaway for his second stage victory of the Tour. He also won Stage 10 and has four in total.
“Every one of the mountain passes was a race for me,” said Voeckler, who captured the polka dot jersey for the best climber from Fredrik Kessiakoff of Sweden. “Today I did what many young riders dream of doing — leading everyone over all four summits.”
Chris Anker Sorensen of Denmark was second, 1:40 back. Wiggins, Froome and Nibali finished together, 7:09 behind Voeckler.
Overall, Wiggins leads Froome by 2:05 and Nibali by 2:23. Jurgen Van Den Broeck of Belgium moved up to fourth, 5:46 back — though he lost nearly a minute to Wiggins. Evans was nearly 4 more minutes behind.