Pierre Rolland triumphed on stage 11 of the Tour de France as Europcar made it back-to-back stage wins, while Bradley Wiggins (Team Sky) extended his overall lead after Cadel Evans (BMC Racing) cracked on the final climb.
After team-mate Thomas Voeckler’s win on stage ten, Rolland formed part of the day’s breakaway and tamed four major climbs, soloing to victory atop the summit finish at La Toussuire.
Thibaut Pinot (FDJ-BigMat) finished second, 55 seconds behind Rolland, after outsprinting Chris Froome (Team Sky), who moved up to second overall.
Wiggins finished sixth on the stage, a further two seconds back, and now leads Froome by two minutes and five seconds in the general classification, with Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale) third, a further 28 seconds adrift. Evans is fourth overall, three minutes and 19 seconds behind Wiggins.
The 148km stage from Albertville to La Toussuire was the shortest of the race but produced fireworks from the outset, with a large group going up the road ahead of the first of two hors categorie climbs, the Col de la Madeleine, which started just 14km into the stage.
Rolland jumped clear from the peloton on the early slopes of the Madeleine in pursuit of the 30-strong breakaway group. With team-mates Christophe Kern and Davide Malacarne also in the breakaway and riding in support of Rolland, that group was whittled down to just nine riders by the top of the second HC climb, the Col de la Croix de Fer.
It was on the Croix de Fer that the race among the GC contenders was animated when Evans attacked but, despite having the support of Tejay Van Garderen, who had dropped back from the breakaway for his team leader, the Australian was visibly suffering and was soon reeled in by the chasing group, led by Team Sky’s Michael Rogers.
Rolland attacked with Robert Kiserlovski (Astana) on the penultimate climb, the category two Col du Mollard, and the duo were soon followed by Vasil Kiryienka (Movistar) and Chris Anker Sorensen (SaxoBank-Tinkoff).
Rolland was clearly uncomfortable on the twisting, technical descent off the Col du Mollard and the Frenchman crashed after misjudging a tight hairpin, ripping his shorts before picking himself up off the tarmac and courageously chasing back to regain contact with the leaders.
Kiserlovski attacked at the foot of the final climb, a 18km category one ascent averaging 6.1 per cent, and Rolland went with the Croatian before attacking himself with 10km remaining, riding to his second Tour stage win in as many years after triumphing on Alpe d’Huez in 2011.
Meanwhile, Janez Brajkovic (Astana), Jurgen van den Broeck (Lotto-Belisol) and Pinot all attacked from the yellow jersey group but Team Sky were happy to let the trio ride away until Nibali put in a huge dig of his own.
Froome paced Wiggins, Evans, van Garderen and Frank Schleck (RadioShack-Nissan-Trek) back to the Liquigas-Cannondale rider, who responded with a second acceleration which looked to put Froome and Evans in difficulty.
Froome dropped to the back of the group to recover, while Evans was dropped with five kilometres remaining, with van Garderen putting his white jersey ambitions on the line to fall back and help limit his team leader’s losses.
Up the road, Nibali caught Brajkovic, Pinot and van den Broeck, while Wiggins and Froome worked in partnership to regain contact with the group. Froome then launched a stinging attack, accelerating up the road to leave the group in tatters and quickly distancing his compatriot and team leader.
Wiggins looked in trouble and orders came through Froome’s earpiece from the team car to hang back, while the duo later claimed miscommunication had been the cause of the super-domestique’s unexpected attack.
The group reformed after Froome eased off the gas before the 27-year-old attacked again in the final few hundred metres in pursuit of second place on the day, with Pinot edging out the Brit on the line, while Wiggins and Nibali each exchanged a pat on the back after the hardest stage of the race.
“I think Nibali is getting stronger all the time, it certainly appears that way,” said Wiggins. “I was pretty surprised Cadel went on the Glandon – it was a long way out and we had strength in numbers.
“But it’s been a fantastic day again for us; it’s another one ticked off and I’m sure the next few days will produce something completely different again.”
1) Pierre Rolland (FRA) – Team Europcar – 4:43:54 hours
2) Thibaut Pinot (FRA) – FDJ-BigMat +55″
3) Chris Froome (GBR) – Team Sky – same time
4) Jurgen Van Den Broeck (BEL) – Lotto-Belisol +57″
5) Vincenzo Nibali (ITA) – Liquigas-Cannondale – same time
6) Bradley Wiggins (GBR) – Team Sky – same time
7) Chris Anker Sörensen (DEN) – SaxoBank-Tinkoff +1’08″
8) Janez Brajkovic (SLO) – Astana +1’58″
9) Vasili Kiryienka (BLR) – Movistar +2’13″
10) Frank Schleck (LUX) – RadioShack-Nissan-Trek +2’23″
1) Bradley Wiggins (GBR) – Team Sky -48:43.53 hours
2) Christopher Froome (GBR) – Team Sky +2’05″
3) Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) – Liquigas-Cannondale +2’23″
4) Cadel Evans (AUS) – BMC Racing +3’19″
5) Jurgen Van Den Broeck (BEL) – Lotto-Belisol +4’48″
6) Haimar Zubeldia (SPA) – RadioShack-Nissan-Trek +6’15″
7) Tejay van Garderen (USA) – BMC Racing +6’57″
8) Janez Brajkovic (SLO) – Astana +7’30″
9) Pierre Rolland (FRA) – Team Europcar +8’31″
10) Thibaut Pinot (FRA) – FDJ-BigMat +8’51″