Stage 11, the last proper day in the Alps, and with Sky controlling the race, the pressure was on the GC contenders to attack. The parcours seemed perfect with 2 HC category climbs and a mountaintop finish up a 1st category climb, and both Evans (BMC) and Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale) took up the challenge. The racing was fast from the beginning, and a large group of big name riders formed quickly, including between 25 and 31 riders, but in a very fluid group. Pierre Rolland (Europcar), Chris Horner (RadioShack-Nissan), Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), Ivan Basso (Liquigas-Cannondale) and Dan Martin (Garmin-Sharp) all made it in to the group, along with Robert Gessink (Rabobank).,The first climb of the day was the Col de la Madeleine, and the pace was upped to an attritional level in the break. In the bunch, Christian Knees and Edvald Boasson Hagen set a high tempo for Sky, controlling the pace well and shelling riders out of the back. Over the top of the Madeleine, and the route plummeted down to La Chambre and onto the Col de la Croix de Fer, via the Col du Glandon. This is where Evans made his move, attacking hard and riding up to his teammates Tejay Van Garderen (currently wearing the White Jersey for best rider under 25), and Marcus Berghardt, both of whom had dropped back from the break to help pace him away. He managed to pull out around 20 seconds lead, but with two climbs major climbs still to go he was already starting to suffer, and it was a heck of a long way out to attack. Fighting the bike, he was dropped by his support men on more than one occasion, struggled to find his rhythm, and finally was brought back by the bunch.
Over the top of the Col de Fer, and the break had shrunk to 7 riders: Horner, Rolland, Martin, Fredrik Kessiakoff (Astana), Chris Anker Sorensen (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank), Vasili Kiryienka (Movistar) and Robert Kiserlovski (Astana). Sky still had control of the bunch, but the pace setting had taken it’s toll and they were down to 3 riders in Rogers, Wiggins and Froome. On the descent Rolland was looking particularly off balance, and lost his wheel in to one corner coming down hard. No serious damage, but he had to chase hard to try and catch back up, which he didn’t manage until the bottom of the last climb of the day. The break split again, down to four riders, then Rolland made his move, attacking hard and quickly pulling out a 30 second gap to the pursuing Sorensen. It was a gap he managed to hold, winning the stage, his second stage win after last years victory at Alpe D’huze, and the second in two days for Europcar. Behind, the main contenders had been whittled down to around 8 riders, and Nibali saw the chance to attack, sprinting clear of the bunch. Rogers upped the pace for Sky, and Nibali was brought back, and drifted back alongside Wiggins, took a couple of long looks at him to try and gauge how he was feeling, and kicked again. This time it was too much for Rogers, and he rolled off, leaving Chris Froome to take up the pace making. Nibali dug deep, but was eventually brought back, but the attack had taken it’s toll, and Wiggins was struggling. Not as badly as Evans though, who was dropped by the main group, eventually losing around a minute and a half to the leaders and dropping off the podium placings. The sprint for the placings behind Rolland saw Thibay Pinot (FDJ-BigMat) outpacing Froome and Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Lotto-Belisol). Nibali’s performance saw him up to 3rd in the GC, behind Wiggins and Froome. Sky are now left with the problem of 2 riders occupying the top two spots – Froome showed he has the legs in the mountains and could have dropped Wiggins today, but Wiggins is the team leader… Lets hope they remember team orders next time the going gets rough.
Today’s stage is the longest of this year’s tour at 226km, as we transition out of the alps and back on to a few hilly / flat stages. With two 1st category climbs before the 100km mark, and a nasty 3rd category kick up at the end, it has breakaway written all over it