Team Sky’s Bradley Wiggins swapped his Tour de France podium ambitions for hopes of a top-10 finish after an epic day of racing Tuesday.
The race’s ninth stage was only the second day in the high mountains, but with four mountain passes — including the 25.5km ascension of the Col de la Madeleine — it lived up to its expectations as a heartbreaker for some contenders.
BMC’s Cadel Evans was arguably the day’s biggest loser after he tumbled from first to 18th place, nearly eight minutes off the pace of new leader Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank),.
Team Sky’s Wiggins, who finished fourth last year, was left limiting his losses as the pace increased on the Madeleine before eventually trailing home 4:53 behind Schleck to sit 16th overall at 7:18 behind the Luxembourger.
Wiggins’ dream of a top-three finish may be over, but he was philosophical about it.
“That’s just the way it goes. That’s life, unfortunately,” he said. “You try your hardest, you do everything possible to be in good shape and you’re obviously not with the best of them.
“It’s only sport at the end of the day.”
Wiggins said during the rest day that this year’s race will be decided by minutes, not seconds, because of the four tough days of climbing that begin Sunday in the Pyrenees.
That prediction appears true already, and the race is only at the halfway stage.
Schleck now has just a 41-second lead on reigning champion Alberto Contador (Astana), who countered several attacks by the Saxo Bank leader on the Madeleine climb before both went on to finish two seconds after French stage winner Sandy Casar (Française des Jeux).
Euskaltel’s Samuel Sanchez, the Olympic champion, is a surprise third at 2:45, Rabobank’s Denis Menchov is fourth at 2:58 and Omega Pharma’s Jurgen Van den Broeck is fifth at 3:31.
Other podium contenders include Levi Leipheimer (RadioShack), sixth at 3:59; Robert Gesink (Rabobank), seventh at 4:22; and Ivan Basso (Liquigas), 10th at 5:09.
Wiggins said he had some comfort knowing just where his limits stood, but he refused to throw in the towel just yet.
“At least you know where you stand — you haven’t got to wait two and a half weeks to know where you stand,” he said. “I’ll just do my best every day. I don’t think the GC’s (general classification) finished totally in terms of getting a respectable position and that may be top 10 for me, something like that.
“I don’t want to give up and throw my toys out of the pram, finish at the back or go home, so I’m going to just push on every day and maybe just recalibrate, say top 10 is now the goal.
“We put everything into it, it hasn’t worked. It’s not because we haven’t tried.”