The three-time Olympic track gold-medalist, vying to become Britain’s first winner of the Tour, beat back repeated attacks on Thursday in a crucial Alpine stage won by ace French climber Pierre Rolland.
As Stage 11 began, Wiggins’ main challengers were planning to try to unsettle him in the 148-kilometer trek along three big climbs from the 1992 Winter Olympics town of Albertville to La Toussuire ski station. First, defending champ Cadel Evans took a shot at Wiggins on the longest climb -- a tactic that some questioned. On the way to the uphill finish, Belgium’s Jurgen Van Den Broeck tried too. Then Vincenzo Nibali did, twice. Each time, Wiggins steadily, meticulously reeled them in.
Evans petered out early: The 35-year-old Australian was dropped by Wiggins and others who finished nearly a minute behind Rolland. Evans began the day in second place, but finished 1 minute, 26 seconds behind Wiggins and fell to fourth overall. He’s now 3:19 back.
The Briton also dispensed with Russia’s Denis Menchov, who had won the Spanish Vuelta twice and the Italian Giro once, and began the day 3:02 back in fifth place -- but lost more than 13 minutes to Wiggins. Overall, Wiggins now leads Sky teammate Christophe Froome, who rose to second, by 2:05, and Nibali trails in third, 2:23 back. Van Den Broeck is fifth -- 4:48 behind.
Wiggins also patched things up with Nibali, who a day earlier hadn’t taken kindly to a seeming glare from the Sky leader. As they finished together Thursday, Wiggins gave him a peace-making pat on the back.
The Alpine stage shaped up as a pivotal moment because mountains and time trials tend to determine who wins the Tour. Wiggins’ rivals saw it as their big chance to strike. He looks unstoppable in the time trials: He won one on Monday, and another one awaits on the day before the July 22 finish in Paris. His rivals’ last opportunity could be in another uphill finish in the Pyrenees next Thursday. The race stayed in the Alps on Friday with a 226-kilometer ride from Saint-Jean-De-Maurienne to Annonay Davezieux.