Tour de France Stage 11: Sky High

Staff Writer
Another Frenchman takes a stage, while Team Sky tightens its grip on the lead

Pierre Rolland (Europcar) became the third French cyclist to win a stage of the 2012 Tour de France, riding away from a break and finishing with nearly a minute advantage over a select yellow jersey group in what was an exciting, attack-heavy Stage 11.

Back in the yellow jersey group, which was whittled down to five at the La Toussuire summit finish, Sky’s Chris Froome protected team and race leader Bradley Wiggins’ lead, putting 90 seconds into defending champ Cadel Evans (BMC Racing) and taking over second place. Young Thibaut Pinot (FDJ-Big Mat) led the group in, and both Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale) and Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Lotto Belisol) were there, too.

Sky’s machine worked perfectly throughout the day, but things got a little weird near the finish. After bridging Wiggins up to a group including Nibali, Van Den Broeck, Pinot and Janez Brajkovic (Astana) with just 2km to go, Froome accelerated hard away from the group, seemingly trying to take as much time from Evans as possible. Left behind in the attack, however, was his team leader, Wiggins, who apparently couldn’t keep pace with the Kenyan-born Brit. After 100 meters or so of solo riding, Froome received a radio message (he was seen touching his ear), and fell back to protect Wiggins.

This move was reminiscent of last year’s Vuelta a España, where Froome left Wiggins behind on Stage 15 to mark an attack by eventual race winner Juan Jose Cobo. Froome overtook Wiggins in the standings, finishing second overall (Wiggins was third). It appears, at this point, that Wiggins’ biggest competition in this year’s Tour is Froome. At the end of the stage, Froome dismissed any suggestions that he was thinking of taking the race from Wiggins: "I felt good and had to go. I was just checking the situation on the road and trying to see what was going on. I had fun out there and I was trying to make the most of it.” And, of Wiggins: “He’s just as strong as me, I think, and stronger in the time trials. We’ve still got a 50-kilometer time trial coming… Our plan is to look after Bradley.”

Other highlights from the day included Russian Denis “The Silent Assassin” Menchov losing more than 13 minutes to the race leaders and, with them, his hopes for a podium finish, Evan’s BMC teammate Tejay Van Garderen showing stonger legs as he pulled his leader to the finish and Rolland delivering the second stage victory in a row for Team Europcar.

Tomorrow’s 226-kilometer (140-mile) Stage 12 will see the peloton ride over two cat. 1 climbs on its way out of the Alps and into Annonay Davézieux.

The top 10 after Stage 11:

1     Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Sky Procycling                         48:43:53
2     Chrisopher Froome (GBr) Sky Procycling                    +0:02:05
3     Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale                  +0:02:23
4     Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC Racing                                  +0:03:19
5     Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Bel) Lotto Belisol                  +0:04:48
6     Haimar Zubeldia Agirre (Spa) RadioShack-Nissan      +0:06:15
7     Tejay Van Garderen (USA) BMC Racing                      +0:06:57
8     Janez Brajkovic (Slo) Astana                                       +0:07:30
9     Pierre Rolland (Fra) Team Europcar                            +0:08:31
10   Thibaut Pinot (Fra) FDJ-Big Mat                                  +0:08:51