Frenchman Pierre Rolland claimed an 11th-stage victory on the Tour de France yesterday as race leader Bradley Wiggins of Britain took another step towards overall victory.
Rolland soloed over the finish line after an epic day of racing to claim his second victory in the race a year after his maiden win at Alpe d'Huez to hand Europcar their second win in as many days.
The yellow jersey group of Wiggins came over the finish line of the 148 km stage from Albertville 57sec later. It included Italian contender Vincenzo Nibali and Belgian Jurgen van den Broeck.
Wiggins came under attack several times on the final 18km climb to La Toussuire - notably by Nibali and Van den Broeck. But thanks to the help of Sky teammate Chris Froome, the Englishman was ultimately able to reel them in and then drop defending champion Cadel Evans of Australia. Evans, the 2011 champion, ran out of steam in the final kilometres of the climb to finish over a minute behind Wiggins and see his bid for a successful defence severely compromised.
Evans started the day in second place with a deficit of 1min 53sec to Wiggins but dropped to fourth overall at 3:19.
"It was another great day for the team," said Wiggins."It certainly lived up to its reputation as the hardest stage. Once Cadel had got dropped and we were in that little group the sense of relief was overwhelming really. Taking more time off Cadel, I don't think we really expected that this morning."
Although Evans' chances of closing his gap to Wiggins now look slim as there are few mountain stages remaining in the race, his BMC teammate Tejay van Garderen - who looked stronger than his team leader - was defiant.
"He wasn't on his best day ... normally he would be ripping the legs off of me," said the American, who defended his lead in the white jersey classification for the best placed riders aged 25 and under."
Rolland's victory comes a day after teammate Thomas Voeckler claimed his first stage win this year at Bellegarde-Sur-Valserine.
Swiss rider Fabian Cancellara has pulled out of the Tour de France to return home to be with his wife for the birth of their second child.
The four-time world time trial champion withdrew before Thursday's 11th stage, which takes the peloton on a 148-kilometre trek in the Alps from Albertville to the ski resort La Toussuire. It features two beyond classification climbs before a final 18-kilometre punishing ascent at an average gradient of 6.1 per cent.
"I am not only a bike rider, I am also a husband and father with another baby on the way," Cancellara said. The RadioShack rider will return to competition at the London Olympics and will try to defend his gold medal in the time trial.
However, Luxembourg rider Andy Schleck is set to miss the Games and is yet to determine when he will return to competition.
Schleck was ruled out of the Tour de France - a race he won in 2010 after Alberto Contador was stripped of the title - with a fracture to his sacral body sustained during a crash in the Criterium du Dauphine last month.
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