La Toussuire, France – Yellow jersey holder Bradley Wiggins expressed his relief Thursday after dropping defending Tour de France champion Cadel Evans down the standings on the hardest stage of the race.
Frenchman Pierre Rolland claimed an exciting 11th stage victory after an epic day of racing in the Alps to claim his second Tour stage a year after triumphing on the legendary Alpe d'Huez.
But as Rolland handed Europcar their second win in as many days after Thomas Voeckler's stage 10 victory, the battle for the race's big prize was raging in his wake.
Wiggins had come under attack from both Evans and Italian Vincenzo Nibali but repelled both to ultimately take 1min 26sec from the Australian.
With Evans dropping to fourth overall at 3:19 and Nibali third at 2:23, he said Nibali could now be his biggest threat.
“Vincenzo showed today he's certainly been getting stronger the whole race really, his attacks at the end were pretty severe,” said Wiggins, who now leads teammate Chris Froome by 2:05 in the general classification.
With an overnight deficit of 1:53 and few mountain stages remaining, Evans took a gamble by going on the attack on the Col du Glandon with over 60 km and two other climbs still to negotiate.
In the end, it didn't pay off as Wiggins' formidable Sky team brought him to heel.
“I was more surprised he attacked on the Glandon because there was a hell of a long way to go from there and we were riding pretty strong tempo with quite a few guys,” added Wiggins.
“To attack and sustain a high tempo and stay away with two climbs still to go, I was surprised ... It's not something I would have had the balls to do.”
With just under 6 km remaining another acceleration by Froome put Evans in deeper trouble.
He eventually struggled over the finish in 11th, 2min 23sec behind Rolland and 1:26 behind Wiggins.
Sky said Wednesday they expected a “war” on the 'Queen' stage in the Alps.
But for Wiggins, who was often outclassed by Kenyan-born Briton Froome, it was a battle they controlled from start to finish.
“When we got to the last climb, with about 5 km to go the relief started to come that we were almost at the finish,” said Wiggins.
“Once Cadel had got dropped and we were in that little group the sense of relief was slightly overwhelming that we've actually got through the stage.
“And to have taken more time off Cadel, which I don't think we really expected this morning.”
There was a moment of confusion when Froome launched a small attack to leave the yellow jersey isolated. Five days after beating Evans to victory on the first hilltop finish, it was another example of Froome's apparent class.
Order, however, was eventually restored and Wiggins later explained: “I didn't have a radio at that point, my piece had fallen out.
“But this morning we certainly spoke about Chris attacking in the final.
“I mean, we'd already got rid of Cadel... but this morning we were planning on still being there and Chris maybe making up those 20 odd seconds to move into second overall.
“The plan this morning was for me to stay with Vincenzo and those guys, as long as Chris didn't drag those guys away.
“I think today he showed he had the legs. It was another great day for the team.” – Sapa-AFP