MORZINE, France - Britain’s Bradley Wiggins tightened his grip on the Criterium du Dauphine after Colombia’s Nairo Quintana won the sixth and penultimate stage here on Saturday.
Wiggins went into this mountainous 167.5 kilometre run leading the general classification by 38sec from Germany’s Tony Martin.
But after crossing the line in fourth behind Quintana, Cadel Evans and Daniel Moreno, the Team Sky star extended his lead going into Sunday’s final stage with a 1min 20sec cushion over his teammate, Australian Michael Rogers.
Evans, the defending Tour de France champion, attacked twice in a bid to close his gap: the first time over the the top of the Col de Joux-Plane, the sixth and last climb, and then again at the finish to finish second on the stage behind Quintana.
He is now third overall at 1min 36sec, but had been hoping for more.
“I was hoping for a little bit of a chance for the stage (win),” said Evans, who won the opening stage Monday from a three-man sprint.
“But I also heard Tony Martin was dropped on the Joux-Plane and I wanted to maintain the gap on him.”
The 22-year-old Quintana made his decisive move five kilometres from the summit finish, reeling in leader Brice Feillu two kilometres from the line.
Of the stage winner, Movistar’s sporting director Yvon Ledanois said: “He’s a pure climber but he also knows how to do other things.”
Wiggins, ably aided by his teammates, now looks poised to defend his Dauphine title.
“When Cadel attacked he took a small lead but I didn’t want to take any risks. It’s not a problem to give him 25 or 30 seconds,” said the Olympic track champion.
Sunday’s closing seventh stage is a 124.5km ride between here and Chatel.
One rider who won’t be taking part is Luxembourg’s Andy Schleck, who pulled out of the race at Saturday’s 64km mark.
Schleck had been struggling ever since being knocked to the ground by a strong gust of wind on Thursday’s fourth stage time trial in Bourg-en-Bresse.
“He couldn’t pedal anymore,” RadioShack sporting director Alain Gallopin told the race’s official website.
“Since he crashed during the time trial, the whole right side of his body was hurting.
“He was climbing all right but he was suffering to hold his bike. Yesterday, he managed to finish but today, racing had become too difficult.”
With Sunday’s closing stage less difficult than the sixth stage, the feeling is that Evans — a four-time runner-up — has lost his chance.
“It’s a short stage, but it can be nervous with an arrival at the top, but not as long of a climb as the final one today,” BMC sports director John Lelangue lamented.
“We’ll have to stay vigilant and try to get any opportunities we can.”