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 into big climbs along the Spanish border, winning Stage 16 in a breakaway as Wiggins kept his big rivals a bay – or dusted them.
“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. “I did not think it would affect me in the race, but obviously that’s not my normal level.
Two big final shakedowns in the race await in today’s stage in the Pyrenees, featuring an uphill finish, and Saturday’s time trial, though other pratfalls and pitfalls could await.
But 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.
“There was a pretty big selection made,” said Tejay Van Garderen, an American who at sixth eclipsed Evans as top-ranked BMC rider. “It was obvious that Nibali, ‘Wiggo’ and Froome were a notch above my group ... Sky is looking incredible, Nibali is making the race at least exciting.”
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.
“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.
Overall, Wiggins leads Froome by 2:05 and Nibali by 2:23.