Cadel attacks and falters. Nibali and Wiggins show Tour strength.
Cadel Evans had a perfect plan of attack for stage 11 to the Toussiere ski station. Throw a BMC guy into the break, then have Tejay Van Garderen jump clear of the Wiggins group, launch your own attack on the HC Col de Croix de Fer, link up with your two BMC teammates and pull back a minute or two. Chess on two wheels, smack in the face, back in the hunt for yellow.
It was a beautiful script and executed with flawless precision. Only hitch: it failed miserably. Evans got his gap and hooked up with Van Garderen but the relentless power of Sky reeled Evans in, then later broke him. Instead of drawing closer to Wiggins on GC, Evans eventually lost Wiggins’ wheel and now faces a deficit of 3:19. Mood in BMC bus: grumpy, depressed.
Team Sky looked invincible on a nasty day in the Alps that featured two HC climbs, the Madeleine and Croix de Fer. When Evans launched his attack, Sky simply upped the tempo with Michael Rogers putting in an impressive ride. It was deja vu all over again: Rogers, Porte, Froome all controlling the race with Wiggins sitting in enjoying the decimation. An attack from Evans — they trained for that.
While Tejay Van Garderen would say after the stage that Sky showed some weakness on the final climb to Toussiere, we sure didn’t see it. Froome would sprint for third place on the stage behind winner Pierre Rolland (Europcar) and Thibaut Pinot (FDJ-Big Mat). The British squad has a lock on the top two GC positions with Vincenzo Nibali moving up into third overall, 2:23 back.
Besides Wiggins strengthening his chokehold, it was Nibali and Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Lotto-Belisol) who benefitted most from the murderous day in the Alps. After Evans’ failed attempt, Nibali shot past the Sky train and linked up with the young Belgian rider. For a few moments, it felt like a hammer blow but the Sky machine — riding like a dope-free US Postal squad — dragged them back. Wiggins, Nibali, Van Den Broeck and Froome would all finish together — well, Froome did take 2 seconds, but who’s counting?
The Second Coming of Europcar. Say what you want about the sometimes under-underperforming French teams, Jean-René Bernaudeau’s Europcar boys always seem to get the job done. Last year’s one-two punch at Le Grand Shindig is again delivering the results.
Yesterday it was the sneaky Thomas Voeckler and his so-called sore knees winning big and today Pierre Rolland showed that his win on Alp d’Huez was no fluke. He make sure he joined the “everybody invited” break, then was the last man in front of Sky. This despite crashing on the descent before the climb to Toussiere. Impressive stuff — and he vaults up to 9th on GC. With compatriot Pinot taking second, it was a fabulous day for the French.
Everybody likes to say — even Brad Wiggins — that Cadel Evans is a fighter. He will fight all the way to Paris but it sure looks like he’ll be watching Wiggins, Froome and Nibali step onto the podium.