Tour de France 2012 stage 17 photo gallery by Graham Watson>>

Bradley Wiggins (Sky) moved one step closer to Paris after he successfully saw off the final stage in the Pyrenees with a third place finish behind stage winner Alejandro Valverde (Movistar).

Valverde, back from a two-year doping suspension which ended at the start of the year, was the sole remnant of the day’s break and narrowly held on to his lead on the final climb to Peyragudes as Wiggins and team-mate Chris Froome were in hot pursuit.

Behind the pair the remaining favourites including Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale) lost further time and barring catastrophe Sky now look to have secured the top two places on the podium with two flat stages and a time trial remaining.

Yet on a day that promised aggression from Sky’s rivals, we were left with intrigue and possibility from the final few kilometres of the climb as once again Froome looked stronger than leader Wiggins.

Once the pair had broken free from Jurgen Vandenbroeck (Lotto-Belisol) and Thibaut Pinot (FDJ-BigMat), with Valverde 30 seconds up the road, Froome could been seen urging and cajoling Wiggins onwards.

Froome remained with Wiggins, either at the behest of the yellow jersey or through team orders, and led his leader to the line less than 20 seconds behind the stage winner.

Whether Froome could have won the stage, how much time he could have gained on Wiggins, and what he was saying to his leader, remain unknown.

Meanwhile it was an opportunity lost for Nibali whose Liquigas team did much of the work on the front of the peloton during the day. Their leader’s strength failed when it most mattered, as Sky upped the pace on the final climb, and with it went his hopes of knocking Froome off second spot.

Misty mountains
In sharp contrast to yesterday’s scorcher, the Pyrenees returned to their mist-shrouded and mysterious character on the last of the days in the mountains for the peloton.

Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) and Fredrik Kessiakoff (Astana) both made the early break and fought tooth and nail for the points in the King of the Mountains classification, the Frenchman coming out on top over the first three climbs of the day to extend his lead.

The anticipated downhill attack from Nibali and Liquigas never came and it took until the final ascent of the Col du Peyresourde and Peyragudes for the action to really come to the boil.

With Valverde the last remaining escapee 90 seconds up the road, Wiggins and Froome began to wind the pace with 10 kilometres remaining, unusually short on their team-mates who have so often accompanied them on the Tour’s uphill challenges.

They parted the crowds to Peyragudes and emerged alone with 2.7km to go, from where none could stay with them.

Wiggins thanked a united team after the stage for their sacrifices in helping him reach the run in to Paris with yellow on his shoulders.

Yet the ramifications of the scale of that sacfirice, in particular from Froome, could lead to an interesting final few days for Wiggins and Sky.

Results
Tour de France 2012, stage seventeen: Bagneres-de-Luchon – Peyragudes, 143.5km
1. Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar 4-12-11

2. Chris Froome (GBr) Team Sky at 19 secs
3. Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Team Sky s.t.
4. Thibaut Pinot (Fra) FDJ-BigMat at 22 secs
5. Pierre Rolland (Fra) Europcar at 26 secs
6. Jurgen Van den Broeck (Bel) Lotto-Belisol s.t.
7. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale at 37 secs
8. Tejay Van Garderen (USA) BMC Racing at 54 secs
9. Chris Horner (USA) Radioshack-Nissan at 1-02
10. Dan Martin (Irl) Garmin-Sharp at 1-11

Overall classification after stage seventeen
1. Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Team Sky 78h 28-02
2. Chris Froome (GBr) Team Sky at 2-05
3. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale at 2-41
4. Jurgen Van den Broeck (Bel) Lotto-Belisol at 5-53
5. Tejay Van Garderen (USA) BMC Racing at 8-30
6. Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC Racing at 9-57
7. Haimar Zubeldia (Spa) Radioshack-Nissan at 10-11
8. Pierre Rolland (Fra) Europcar at 10-17
9. Janez Brajokovic (Slo) Astana at 11-00
10. Thibaut Pinot (Fra) FDJ-BigMat at 11-46


Thomas Voeckler aggressively defended his lead in the King of the Mountains competition

Bradley Wiggins

Chris Froome leads as Bradley Wiggins thinks of Paris

Alejandro Valverde wins

Tour de France 2012: Latest news

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Voigt tries to carry on as RadioShack’s future seems in doubt


Frank Schleck positive for banned substance at Tour


Rest day review (July 17)


Defending Tour champ Evans has work to do in Pyrenees


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Evans suffers multiple punctures after Tour tack attack


Froome not winning this year’s Tour is ‘very great sacrifice’


Frank Schleck criticises ‘boring’ Tour de France

Tour de France 2012: Teams, riders, start list

Tour 2012: Who will win?

Tour de France 2012 start list and withdrawals

Tour de France 2012 team list

Tour de France 2012: Stage reports
Stage 16: Voeckler the Pyrenean king as he wins in Bagneres de Luchon
Stage 15: Fedrigo wins, day off for peloton
Stage 14: Sanchez solos to Foix victory to save Rabobank’s Tour
Stage 13: Greipel survives climb and crosswinds to win third Tour stage
Stage 12: Millar wins Tour stage nine years from his last
Stage 11: Wiggins strengthens Tour lead as Evans slips back
Stage 10: Voeckler wins and saves his Tour
Stage nine: Wiggins destroys opposition in Besancon TT
Stage eight: Pinot solos to Tour win as Wiggins fights off attacks
Stage seven: Wiggins takes yellow as Froome wins stage
Stage six: Sagan wins third Tour stage
Stage five: Greipel wins again as Cavendish fades
Stage four: Greipel wins stage after Cavendish crashes
Stage three: Sagan runs away with it in Boulogne
Stage two: Cavendish takes 21st Tour stage victory
Stage one: Sagan wins at first attempt
Prologue: Cancellara wins, Wiggins second

Tour de France 2012: Comment, analysis, blogs

Analysis: What we learned at La Planche des Belles Filles

Analysis: How much time could Wiggins gain in Tour’s time trials

CW’s Tour de France podcasts

Blog: Tour presentation – chasing dreams and autographs

Comment: Cavendish the climber

Tour de France 2012: Photo galleries

Stage 16 by Graham Watson

Stage 15 by Graham Watson

Stage 14 by Graham Watson

Stage 13 by Graham Watson

Stage 12 by Graham Watson

Stage 11 by Graham Watson

Stage 10 by Graham Watson

Stage nine by Graham Watson

Stage eight by Graham Watson

Stage seven by Graham Watson

Stage six by Graham Watson

Stage five by Graham Watson

Stage four by Graham Watson

Stage three by Graham Watson

Stage two by Andy Jones

Stage two by Graham Watson

Stage one by Graham Watson

Prologue photo gallery by Andy Jones

Prologue photo gallery by Roo Rowler

Prologue photo gallery by Graham Watson

Tour de France 2012: Team presentation

Sky and Rabobank Tour de France recce

Tour de France 2012: Live text coverage

Stage 10 live coverage

Stage nine live coverage

Stage six live coverage

Stage five live coverage

Stage four live coverage

Stage three live coverage

Cycling Weekly’s live text coverage schedule

Tour de France 2012: TV schedule
ITV4 live schedule
British Eurosport live schedule

Tour de France 2012: Related links

Brits in the Tours: From Robinson to Cavendish

Brief history of the Tour de France

Tour de France 2011: Cycling Weekly’s coverage index

1989: The Greatest Tour de France ever