Wiggins holds Tour lead as Evans cracks

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.

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