Pierre Rolland made it two stage wins in a row for Europcar to take stage 11, after atacking and dropping the final survivors of the day's break on the last climb to the summit finish at La Toussuire. Thibaut Pinot of FDJ-BigMat, the youngest rider in the race, finished second around a minute later, ahead of Team Sky's Chris Froome. Rolland has now taken the big Alpine stages in successive editions fo the Tour, last year he was winner of the Alpe d'Huez stage.
It was a dramatic day in the battle for the overall victory, with Vincenzo Nibali twice attacking and briefly distancing maillot jaune Bradley Wiggins, but the pair crossed the line together. The big loser, however, was defending champion Cadel Evans of BMC Racing, second this morning, who lost a minute and a half to his rivals. One of the day's big talking points, though will be an apparent attack by Froome on team mate WIggins, who was briefly distanced before his colleague seemed to be ordered to slow down.
Froome moves up to second on GC, 2 minutes 5 seconds behind Wiggins, a reversal of the podium positions the pair occupied in last September’s Vuelta when they finished second and third behind Juan Jose Cobo of Movistar, who has been all but anonymous in this race.
During the Vuelta, Team Sky’s decision to have Froome work for Wiggins while the Kenyan-born rider was in the race leader’s red jersey had provoked no small amount of debate, with many insisting that since he looked stronger – and he would go on to win a mountain stage – he should have been the rider that the British outfit sought to support for the overall win.
That debate, simmering during this year’s Tour and especially since Froome’s victory on La Planche des Belles Filles on Saturday, a stage that saw Wiggins move into the maillot jaune, will have exploded this evening as Froome appeared to attack his team leader just after the pair had reeled in a second attack from Liquigas Cannondale rider Nibali on the day’s final climb.
Froome’s move came the moment he and Wiggins joined Nibali, whose attack had seen him bridge across to Pinot, Astana’s Janez Brajkovic and Jurgen Van Den Broeck of Lotto-Belisol, the Team Sky rider putting in a lightning quick burst of acceleration that had Wiggins, of all people, in trouble.
The maillot jaune was briefly dropped, and Froome, presumably getting orders either from his team leader or from sports director Sean Yates, immediately cut his speed and the small group reformed.
What’s not clear for now is whether Froome’s move was a deliberate attack against his team mate, or due to some kind of misunderstanding – certainly, both the Team Sky riders seemed to be engaged in discussion via their radios shortly before catching Nibali.
The Sicilian, who had made an earlier attack on the final climb that was swiftly reeled in, may not have shaken off Wiggins and Froome, but he does leapfrog Evans into a podium position, with the defending champion clearly in trouble despite the help of his team mate Tejay Van Garderen.
Evans had himself attacked earlier in the 148-km stage from Albertville during the ascent of the Col de la Croix de Fer, joining Van Garderen who had shot off up the road shortly beforehand, and even at that point it looked like the 2011 Tour winner, ashen faced and struggling to match his younger team mate, might be in trouble today.
That attack was eventually brought back by Team Sky, with Edvald Boasson Hagen, Michael Rogers and Richie Porte again all putting in big efforts to try and help control the race.
Van Garderen keeps the best young rider’s white jersey, with Pinot, winner of Stage 8 at Porrentruy on Sunday, moving up to second in that classification.
Up ahead of the GC group, four riders, the remains of a big group that got away early on, hit the foot of that final climb to La Toussuire together, the quartet being Peter Velits of Omega Pharma-Quick Step, Laurens Ten Dam of Rabobank, Robert Kiserlovski of Astana, and the eventual stage winner, Rolland.
Immediately they hit the foot of that ascent, 18 kilometres long with an average gradient of 6.1 per cent, Rolland and Kiserloviski went on the attack, quickly distancing their two fellow riders, but Ten Dam and Velits managed to rejoin them.
Again, 11 kilometres out, Rolland went once more, Kiserlovski following his move but the Frenchman was soon out in front on his own, pushing himself to his limits as he rode away to claim his second big Tour de France mountain stage inside 12 months.
Stage winner, Europcar’s Pierre Rolland:
“It was a great day. We expected a big show, and we got. I was not sure if I would try to go clear [of the escapees] on climb of the Madeleine or wait a little later. We spoke with Christophe Kern, and he helped me to get me back to the lead group, then reached the front in the ascent of the Croix de Fer and Mollard climbs. I told him he was going too fast, but he kept saying, ‘Shut up and trust me, you'll have them!'
“This stage, it's been in my dreams for six months. This is the queen stage for me, because it is the most difficult, because it's in the Alps. And the Alps, is my home. This victory is very different from last year; as soon as I found myself in the break, I had to take my responsibilities as the others [in the break] looked at me. Last year, I could play on the element of surprise, and also work with nerves of [Samuel] Sanchez and [Alberto] Contador. Both stages [today and at Alpe d'Huez in 2011] are similar on paper, how to win them was entirely different and so my two wins at the Tour have a different flavour.
“Since the presentation of the Tour, the team knew that the route was not ideal for me when it came to the overall standings. But we still we decided to pursue this goal… To reach the podium, requires total commitment and consistancy over three whole weeks, which is very different to come to a race to win stages by having some less intense days. This is something I want to work on improving over the coming years.”
Maillot jaune Bradley Wiggins, Team Sky:
"I think Nibali is getting stronger all the time, it certainly appears that way. I was pretty surprised Cadel went on the Glandon - there was a hell of a long way to go and we were riding a pretty high tempo and still had quite a few guys there.
"But it's been a fantastic day again for us; it's another one ticked off and we've actually taken more time off Cadel which we never expected this morning."
[Referring to Froome jumping ahead] “I was just really concentrating on my effort and keeping it constant. I'd been riding for 1.5km, 2km before that. I just wanted to clear the lactate and didn't want to make any more of an acceleration.
"There was a lot of noise and a lot of things going on the radio and a bit of confusion at that point as to what we were doing. I think he [Froome] showed today he had the legs, certainly. It was another great day for the team.
"He wanted to try to get a bit of time on him [Evans] today. It was certainly the plan this morning, as long as I stayed with Vincenzo and those guys and Chris didn't drag those guys away."
Team Sky Sports Director, Sean Yates:
“I’ve been part of many big teams and some big rides but today was right up there with some of the best performances I’ve witnessed during my years being involved with cycling.
“Everything was kept in check which was the goal at the start of the day. Everyone wanted to have a dig and attack which was to be expected. We managed the situation and the opponents and ultimately took some time out of Cadel.
“Froomey took a couple of seconds in the final and moved up to second on the day. There was some real commitment by the boys today and I’m really proud of the whole team. I can’t praise them enough.”
Tejay van Garderen, BMC Racing, leading young rider:
"Cadel is mentally tough so he's not going to let this day get him down. He's going to keep fighting. If Sky continues on a decline with their strength in numbers and Cadel shakes off today and has a better day in the coming days, we can get the time back."
"That was really hard. It was a tough day. I hoped Cadel's legs would be better, especially since Sky was put under so much pressure throughout the day. This was the first time we saw Wiggins isolated. If we can do that again on the next mountain stage and Cadel's legs come around, anything is possible. There's a long way to go.
"It looked like we had Sky under pressure and things looked to be going great, but Cadel had a little trouble holding my wheel. He was having a bit of an off day. Normally he would be the one dropping me."
BMC Racing Team Directeur Sportif John Lelangue:
"Cadel is disappointed of course. We have done great until now. We have tried to limit everything and I think the team did great today. But making up more than three minutes is complicated knowing that you have the time trial at the end and there are not so many mountain top finishes – and looking at the team Sky has here. It's always possible. We won't say today it's finished. We'll keep fighting until Paris."
Tour de France Stage 11 result 1 ROLLAND Pierre TEAM EUROPCAR 04h 43' 54'' 2 PINOT Thibaut FDJ-BIGMAT + 00' 55'' 3 FROOME Christopher SKY PROCYCLING + 00' 55'' 4 VAN DEN BROECK Jurgen LOTTO-BELISOL TEAM + 00' 57'' 5 NIBALI Vincenzo LIQUIGAS-CANNONDALE + 00' 57'' 6 WIGGINS Bradley SKY PROCYCLING + 00' 57'' 7 SORENSEN Chris Anker TEAM SAXO BANK-TINKOFF BANK + 01' 08'' 8 BRAJKOVIC Janez ASTANA PRO TEAM + 01' 58'' 9 KIRYIENKA Vasili MOVISTAR TEAM + 02' 13'' 10 SCHLECK Frank RADIOSHACK-NISSAN + 02' 23'' 11 EVANS Cadel BMC RACING TEAM + 02' 23'' 12 VAN GARDEREN Tejay BMC RACING TEAM + 02' 23'' 13 HORNER Christopher RADIOSHACK-NISSAN + 03' 53'' 14 KLÖDEN Andréas RADIOSHACK-NISSAN + 03' 53'' 15 COPPEL Jérôme SAUR-SOJASUN + 03' 53'' 16 ZUBELDIA Haimar RADIOSHACK-NISSAN + 03' 53'' 17 COBO Juan Jose MOVISTAR TEAM + 03' 53'' 18 KISERLOVSKI Robert ASTANA PRO TEAM + 03' 53'' 19 ROCHE Nicolas AG2R LA MONDIALE + 06' 17'' 20 TEN DAM Laurens RABOBANK CYCLING TEAM + 07' 27' Last man home on Stage 11 167 VAN HUMMEL Kenny VACANSOLEIL-DCM + 36' 35'' General Classification after Stage 11 1 WIGGINS Bradley SKY PROCYCLING 48h 43' 53'' 2 FROOME Christopher SKY PROCYCLING + 02' 05'' 3 NIBALI Vincenzo LIQUIGAS-CANNONDALE + 02' 23'' 4 EVANS Cadel BMC RACING TEAM + 03' 19'' 5 VAN DEN BROECK Jurgen LOTTO-BELISOL TEAM + 04' 48'' 6 ZUBELDIA Haimar RADIOSHACK-NISSAN + 06' 15'' 7 VAN GARDEREN Tejay BMC RACING TEAM + 06' 57'' 8 BRAJKOVIC Janez ASTANA PRO TEAM + 07' 30'' 9 ROLLAND Pierre TEAM EUROPCAR + 08' 31'' 10 PINOT Thibaut FDJ-BIGMAT + 08' 51'' Points Classification after Stage 11 1 SAGAN Peter LIQUIGAS-CANNONDALE 232 pts 2 GOSS Matthew Harley ORICA GREENEDGE 205 pts 3 GREIPEL André LOTTO-BELISOL TEAM 172 pts 4 CAVENDISH Mark SKY PROCYCLING 129 pts 5 PETACCHI Alessandro LAMPRE - ISD 109 pts Mountains Classification after Stage 11 1 KESSIAKOFF Fredrik ASTANA PRO TEAM 66 pts 2 ROLLAND Pierre TEAM EUROPCAR 55 pts 3 SORENSEN Chris Anker TEAM SAXO BANK-TINKOFF BANK 39 pts 4 SCARPONI Michele LAMPRE - ISD 33 pts 5 FROOME Christopher SKY PROCYCLING 32 pts Best Young Rider's Classification after Stage 11 1 VAN GARDEREN Tejay BMC RACING TEAM 48h 50' 50'' 2 PINOT Thibaut FDJ-BIGMAT + 01' 54'' 3 TAARAMAE Rein COFIDIS LE CREDIT EN LIGNE + 23' 50'' 4 VALLS Rafael VACANSOLEIL-DCM + 30' 51'' 5 KRUIJSWIJK Steven RABOBANK CYCLING TEAM + 38' 23''
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.