BELLEGARDE-SUR-VALSERINE, France (AFP) –
Britain’s Bradley Wiggins retained the yellow jersey on the first day of the Tour de France in the Alps Wednesday as France’s Thomas Voeckler won the 10th stage.
Voeckler, of the Europcar team, capped an impressive game of cat and mouse with several rivals in the closing kilometres to claim his first victory of this year’s race and third of his career.
Italian Michele Scarponi (Lampre) finished second at 3sec with German veteran Jens Voigt (RadioShack) third at 7.
Wiggins retained his 1min 53sec overnight lead on BMC leader Cadel Evans, with Sky teammate Chris Froome still third overall at 2:07 and Italian Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas) at 2:23.
Nibali was one of two riders, along with Belgian Jurgen Van den Broeck (Lotto) to try and attack Wiggins in a bid to close their respective deficits.
Van den Broeck tried twice on the 17 km climb to the summit of the Col du Grand Colombier, and finally managed to distance the yellow jersey pack after racing ahead with Frenchman Pierre Rolland.
He came over the finish 32sec ahead of Wiggins’ group, but is still 4:48 behind the Englishman overall.
“I have to take every opportunity,” said the Belgian.
“Some guys just don’t realise there are only three real stages left to try and close the gap. If you simply let Sky set the pace, we have no chance of overtaking them.”
Nibali then went on the attack on the descent but Wiggins’ impressive Sky team, notably Australian Richie Porte, set a pace that quickly reeled the Italian in before the final, short climb to the summit of the Col de Richemond.
“I didn’t panic when he attacked,” said Wiggins.
“He’s over two minutes behind me and I knew he’d have to be really strong in the valley if he was to stay away.”
In a last desperate move, Evans tried to pull away on the home straight but to no avail.
The Australian then indicated that winning the race by himself may be a hard ask this year.
Admitting he may have “maybe missed a bit of an opportunity” when Nibali attacked, he added: “You have to make opportunities for yourself.
“The attacking riders will be more rewarded tomorrow but we’ll also have to see how the other teams react to the race.”
Voeckler, who almost pulled out of the race just after the start because of tendinitis in his knee, was among a 25-man breakaway that attacked early in the stage.
As the demands of the climbs took a steady toll on the frontrunners, the Frenchman, fourth in last year’s race after wearing yellow for 10 days, found himself among a select group that managed to stay out at the front and build a five-minute lead on the peloton.
A late counter-attack by Voigt threatened to steal Voeckler’s thunder, especially when the German went off in pursuit of Belgian Dries Devenyns after the Omega-Pharma rider attacked 3.5 km from home.
But on the small rise leading to the finish line Voeckler somehow found the strength to leave breakaway rivals Scarponi and Luis Leon Sanchez in his wake to overtake both Voigt and Devenyns and pedal slowly over the line.
“I really didn’t think I would win the stage until I was about five metres from the finish line,” said a beaming Voeckler, whose efforts on the climbs gave him provisional ownership of the polka dot jersey.
“I was in extreme pain at the end. The only thing that kept me going was that I knew the others were feeling the same.”
Thursday’s 148 km 11th stage takes the peloton from Albertville over 73 km of climbing to the summit of La Toussuire ski station.
And Wiggins expects more of the same from his rivals.
“We knew coming into the Tour it was going to be like that. The leader’s jersey gets attacked, so I expect it really.”