Sky Procycling rider and wearer of the leader’s yellow jersey Bradley Wiggins of Britain (R) cycles in front of BMC Racing Team rider Cadel Evans of Australia (C) and RadioShack-Nissan rider Frank Schleck of Luxembourg during the 11th stage of the 99th Tour de France cycling race between Albertville and La Toussuire, July 12, 2012. (REUTERS/Stephane Mahe)

By Gilles Le Roc’h

LA TOUSSUIRE, France, July 12 (Reuters) – Bradley Wiggins took matters into his own hands to defend and retain his overall Tour de France lead in a short but eventful mountain stage at La Toussuire on Thursday.

Defending champion Cadel Evans and Italy’s Vincenzo Nibali used the four climbs on the short 148.5-km 11th stage to try and topple the Briton, but failed.

Evans’s attempt in the out-of-category Croix de Fer pass, some 65km before the finish was a damp squib, which the Australian paid for dearly in the ascent to La Toussuire as he was dropped with 5.5km to go.

The Australian crossed the line 2:23 behind stage winner Pierre Rolland of France, who finished on his own, and more importantly lost 1:26 to Wiggins.

Nibali, expected to attack in the day’s tricky descents, made two bold attempts in the final climb which Wiggins, helped by team-mate Chris Froome, stamped out perfectly.

Froome is now second overall, 2:05 behind Wiggins, while Nibali retained third place, 2:23 adrift. Evans is now off the podium in fourth place, 3:19 off the pace.

Already crowned in the prestigious stage finish up l’Alpe d’Huez a year ago, Rolland made it two in succession for his Europcar team after Thomas Voeckler’s victory in Bellegarde sur Valserine a day earlier.

Fellow-Frenchman Thibaut Pinot, winner of the 8th stage in Porrentruy, was second in the stage ahead of Froome.

Friday’s 226-km 12th stage again includes two first category climbs before a more lenient finish towards Annonay.