BELLEGARDE-SUR-VALSERINE (France): Britain’s Bradley Wiggins retained the yellow jersey on the first day of the Tour de France in the Alps yesterday 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 3 seconds with German veteran Jens Voigt (RadioShack) third at 7.
Wiggins retained his 1:53 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, in vain, on the 17km climb to the summit of the Col du Grand Colombier while Nibali attacked on the descent.
Wiggins’ impressive Sky team, notably Australian Richie Porte, however 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.”
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 33-year-old Frenchman, who finished fourth in last year’s race after wearing yellow for 10 days, was among a far smaller 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 3.5km 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.
“I really didn’t think I would win the stage until I was about five metres from the finish line,” said a beaming Voeckler.
“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.”
His efforts over the climbs won him the polka dot jersey, but he admitted his stage win had been hard to come by.
“I suffered cramp when I went for the points at the summit of the Grand Colombier, but I thought ‘well at least that’s the jersey in the bag’,” added the Frenchman.
“I also wanted to contend the stage win but in the breakaway I felt like I was being marked. When Devenyns attacked, I said to the others ‘go after him’.
“If the finale had been on a flat stretch, it would have been over. Thankfully for me it was that little bit harder.”
Today’s 148km 11th stage takes the peloton from Albertville over 73km of climbing to the summit of La Toussuire ski station.
And Wiggins expects more of the same from his rivals. — AFP