Thomas Voeckler Wins Queen Stage of 2012 Tour de 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.
Cyclists first scaled the Aubisque and Tourmalet passes -- two of the toughest climbs in cycling -- followed by the category-1 Aspin and Peyresourde passes. The last peak was nearly 10 miles from the finish, before a long descent.
Voeckler grimaced, his jersey unzipped and his body rocking from side to side in rhythm with his pedal strokes as he climbed the ascents.
"I'm the first person to admit that I'm not beautiful on the bike," the Europcar rider said. "I'm a frowner. ... That's my way of doing it -- when I'm in pain, that's the way (I) look."
On the ascent to the Aspin pass, the day's third big climb, Evans started to lag. The Australian couldn't keep pace with BMC teammate Amael Moinard of Belgium.
Evans was about 40 seconds back of his teammates but recovered and joined the pack by the foot of the day's last climb after receiving an escort. But Evans struggled on the last climb, continuing to lose time afterward.
BMC pulled out the stops to help its leader, but it wasn't enough.
"A couple of times we tried to give him gels and some food and he was just saying something like his stomach was not handling it that well," said Van Garderen. "So maybe the heat was getting to him."
Evans crossed the finish line by clasping hands with U.S. veteran George Hincapie.
"The year's not over but certainly the retirement present I wanted to give to George Hincapie this year, the hope and wish for that is gone," said Evans.
On the Peyresourde, Nibali took his chances. His first attack against Wiggins gained some traction, and he held a 10-second lead for nearly a mile. But Froome, playing the dutiful lieutenant for Wiggins, led his team leader back. Nearing the top, when the pass got its steepest, Nibali struck again -- but this time, Wiggins did the hard work to catch him quickly.
Dave Brailsford, the Team Sky manager, said his two star riders never appeared to be under pressure -- and spoke in superlatives about Wiggins and his quest to become the first Briton to win the Tour.
"The last 18 months he's put together is nothing short of remarkable," said Brailsford. "I dont know any other -- certainly British athlete -- that has performed at his level for the same period of time."
Two American veterans ran into mishaps. Chris Horner, riding in his sixth Tour, had just fixed a punctured tire when he veered into some bushes, requiring a new bike to return to the race.
On the downhill from the Tourmalet pass, 17-Tour veteran Hincapie crashed and required treatment for his injured left shoulder and knee from team staff and the race doctor.
Thursday's 17th stage offers the last big day of mountain climbing, with an 89.7-mile slog up three hard ascents that includes an uphill finish from Bagneres-de-Luchon to Peyragudes.