Thomas Voeckler won a Tour de France stage featuring the first big climb of this year’s edition as race favorite Bradley Wiggins maintained his lead over defending champion Cadel Evans.
France’s Voeckler, who wore the race-leading yellow jersey for more than a week last year, overtook four other breakaway riders a few hundred meters from the end of yesterday’s 121-mile trip between Macon and Bellegarde-sur-Valserine.
Voeckler blew a kiss as he crossed the finish line in the Jura mountain region of eastern France. It was his third career win in cycling’s biggest event.
“In the end, I believed I could win only five meters before the finish line,” Voeckler said in comments on the race’s website. “The last 500 meters was so hard. Today I know that I can finish my Tour without regrets.”
The race continues today with a 92-mile mountain stage between Albertville and La Toussuire.
Wiggins kept his advantage of 1 minute, 53 seconds over Evans after staying in a group with the Australian over the Col du Grand Colombier, an 11-mile climb that ended about 27 miles from yesterday’s finish line.
Wiggins’s Team Sky teammate Chris Froome stayed third, 14 seconds further back after 10 of 20 stages.
Wiggins was led up the Grand Colombier, which has an average gradient of 7.1 percent, by Team Sky teammates as Evans of BMC Racing followed on the Briton’s wheel.
Evans attacked at the start of the descent and Wiggins quickly snuffed out his advantage.
Vincenzo Nibali, who is 2 minutes, 23 seconds behind Wiggins in fourth place, also failed to make up time on the overall leader when his attack on the same descent faded before the final climb, Col de Richemond.
Voeckler, who rides for the Europcar team, was first over the Grand Colombier in a four-man breakaway. Jens Voigt joined the group near the end.
With about two miles left, Dries Devenyns of Omega Pharma-QuickStep broke away from the lead pack.
Voeckler prevailed when he overtook the Belgian a few hundred meters from the end. Michele Scarponi and Voigt finished the stage in second and third place, respectively.
Voeckler took possession of the polka-dot jersey as the top-ranked climber. The Frenchman moved up 21 places to 31st overall -- 22 minutes, 51 seconds behind Wiggins’s time.
Wiggins is seeking to become the first British winner of the Tour de France. He improved a 10-second lead over Evans in a time trial three days ago.