LA PLANCHE DES BELLES FILLES (VN) — Bradley Wiggins took command of the Tour de France on Saturday as Sky teammate Christopher Froome secured a deserved maiden victory on stage 7.
Defending champion Cadel Evans (BMC Racing) finished second on the day, with Wiggins third only seconds behind, as Sky’s pace on the final 5.9km climb to the race’s first hilltop finish levied a costly toll on some contenders for the overall title in Paris.
“It’s something we practice a lot as a group,” said Froome. “I knew the finish. I thought, ‘I’m there, why not give it a nudge?’ And when I saw Cadel wasn’t there, I was surprised.”
The team reconnoitered the climb after the Dauphiné Libéré, Froome added.
“This is one of the principal GC days, so it was important for us,” he said.
As for the new race leader, Wiggins said he knew a kilometer from the line that his teammate could win the stage. He himself was after the maillot jaune.
“My first objective was to take this jersey,” he said. “In the Tour, it’s never too early to take the yellow jersey. It’s enormous to have it. I do not know if I will have in two weeks’ time but it’s great to have it now.”
Evans, who made a futile bid for the stage win only to be passed by Froome in the final 100 meters, is now second overall at 10 seconds behind Wiggins.
Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale), perhaps now the biggest challenger to Evans and Wiggins, is third at 16 seconds with Rein Taaramae of Cofidis in fourth at 32 seconds.
Team Sky came to the race with a number of talented climbers and their strong pace-setting from the bottom of the steep climb to the ski-station finish line was too much for some.
Former podium finisher Fränk Schleck was among the RadioShack-Nissan riders dropped relatively early, along with Andreas Klöden, Chris Horner and, as expected, the now-former race leader Fabian Cancellara, who nonetheless put up a strong defense of his yellow jersey. Not known as a climber, he nevertheless managed to finish 20th on the day at 1:52 and slipped to 11th overall, 1:43 down on Wiggins.
RadioShack’s best-placed rider now is veteran Haimar Zubeldia in fifth at 59 seconds.
Nairobi-born Froome’s victory, his first on the world’s biggest bike race, comes less than a year after a runner-up place at the Vuelta a España.
“To be honest, it was a real fight to be at the front of the peloton,” said Froome. “I am really happy — it wasn’t about sending messages, I just saw an opportunity there.”
Editor’s note: Keep your browser pointed to VeloNews.com for more from stage 6 of the Tour de France.