Bagneres-de-Luchon (France): Thomas Voeckler won the 16th stage of the Tour de France over four huge climbs in the Pyrenees, while defending champion Cadel Evans dropped out of title contention Wednesday.
Evans started the day fourth overall but the Australian struggled on the last two climbs. Bradley Wiggins wore the yellow jersey a little more comfortably — gaining ground on some key pursuers.
Voeckler dominated the 123-mile course from Pau to Bagneres-de-Luchon, the Frenchman leading a breakaway for his second stage victory of the Tour. He also won Stage 10 and has four in total.
"Every one of the mountain passes was a race for me," said Voeckler, who captured the polka dot jersey for the best climber from Fredrik Kessiakoff of Sweden. "I did what many young riders dream of doing — leading everyone over all four summits."
Chris Anker Sorensen of Denmark was second, 1 minute, 40 seconds back. The top title contenders — Wiggins, Sky teammate and compatriot Christopher Froome of Britain and Vincenzo Nibali of Italy — finished more than 7 minutes back.
The Tour was riding under a new doping cloud. RadioShack team leader Frank Schleck was expelled from the race Tuesday after testing positive for a banned diuretic.
Overall, Wiggins leads second-place Froome by 2:05 and third-place Nibali by 2:23. Jurgen Van Den Broeck of Belgium moved up to fourth, 5:46 back.
Evans crossed nearly 5 minutes behind Wiggins to drop to seventh, 8:06 off the pace. Teammate Tejay Van Garderen said the defending champion appeared to suffer from heat and stomach problems, and had "just a bad day."
Evans was about 40 seconds back of his teammates, but recovered and joined the pack by the foot of the day`s last climb after receiving an escort. But he struggled on the last climb, continuing to lose time.
"When you have it two hours before the race there`s not a lot you can do," the 35-year-old Australian said about the stomach issues. "I did not think it would affect me in the race, but obviously that`s not my normal level.
"It`s pretty much the Tour de France over for me."
With Evans fading in the Pyrenees, his young teammate Van Garderen is ready to take over.
The 23-year-old American rider, tipped by many as a future Grand Tour winner, is the best-placed BMC rider in the Tour. He holds a grip on the white jersey for the best young rider, and stands sixth overall, 7 minutes, 55 seconds behind leader Wiggins.
"We are still going to race aggressively," Van Garderen said.
Two American veterans ran into mishaps. Chris Horner, riding in his sixth Tour, had just fixed a flat tire when he veered into some bushes, requiring a new bike to return to the race.
On the downhill from the Tourmalet pass, 17-Tour veteran George Hincapie crashed and required treatment for his injured left shoulder and knee from team staff and the race doctor.
A bunch of 38 riders broke away early, but the big climbs took their toll and the group divided. Cyclists first scaled the Aubisque and Tourmalet passes — two of the toughest climbs in cycling — followed by the category-1 Aspin and Peyresourde passes. The last peak was 9 miles from the finish, before a long descent.
Voeckler grimaced, his jersey unzipped and his body rocking from side to side in rhythm with his pedal strokes as he climbed the ascents.
"I`m the first person to admit that I`m not beautiful on the bike," the Europcar rider said. "I`m a frowner ... That`s my way of doing it — when I`m in pain, that`s the way look."
After the three biggest climbs, the stage looked like a two-man race between Voeckler and Brice Feillu of France. With 13 miles left, Voeckler stepped it up, pulling away. Sorensen then caught up with Feillu and overtook him.
On the ascent to the Aspin pass, the day`s third big climb, Evans started to lag. The Australian couldn`t keep pace with BMC teammate Amael Moinard of Belgium.
The 17th stage on Thursday offers the last big day of mountain climbing, with an 88-mile slog up three hard ascents that includes an uphill finish from Bagneres-de-Luchon to Peyragudes.