Relieved Wiggins survives attacks, radio hitch
LA TOUSSUIRE, France, (Reuters) – Britain’s Bradley Wiggins survived attacks from his rivals and radio interference to continue his march towards a maiden Tour de France title yesterday when he was supposed to be tested to the limit.
Last year’s champion Cadel Evans of Australia tried his luck 65km from the finish of stage 11, but paid for it in the final climb to La Toussuire, with Italian Vincenzo Nibali relentlessly attacking before eventually being reined in.
Wiggins’s Sky team mate Chris Froome also accelerated as the race neared its climax, but was called back through his earpiece by sports director Sean Yates as Wiggins did not respond to the injection of pace.
Wiggins, who is the team’s top priority, played down the incident, refusing to blame Froome.
“At that moment, I was really concentrating on my effort,” he told a news conference. “I just wanted to clear the lactate and did not want to make any more of an acceleration.
“There was a lot of noise in the radio. There was a bit of confusion at that point. He showed he had the legs, it was another great day for the team.”
When quizzed again on the matter, however, Wiggins gave another explanation.
“The radio piece had fallen out,” he said, before adding that the morning plan was for Froome possibly to attack in the finale and leapfrog Evans into second place overall.
“It was the plan this morning as long as I was with Vincenzo (Nibali) and the others.”
Froome, who finished second in last year’s Vuelta a Espana, ahead of Wiggins in third, said he followed team orders.
“I follow orders at all costs, I’m part of a team and have to do what the team asks me to do,” the Kenyan-born Froome told reporters.
“He (Wiggins) is just as strong as me (in the mountains) and he is stronger than me in the time trials and we have still got a 50km time trial.
“Our plan is to look after Bradley.”
Wiggins was indeed well looked after during the 148km mountain stage featuring two out-of-category climbs before the final ascent.
Edvald Boasson Hagen, Richie Porte and Michael Rogers set the pace in the ascents to the Col de la Madeleine and the Col de la Croix de Fer, with the latter upping the tempo to catch Evans after the Australian’s attack.
Evans paid dearly for his premature break when he cracked in the second part of the climb to La Toussuire, losing one minute 26 seconds to Wiggins.
Wiggins himself suffered a lot in that ascent, but was relieved when his rival was dropped.
“It was the hardest stage. With seven, five kilometres to go the relief was starting to come,” said Wiggins.
“When Cadel was dropped the sense of relief was slightly overwhelming.
“We did not expect that this morning.”