Britain’s Bradley Wiggins (Team Sky) has taken the lead in the Tour de France after finishing third behind team mate and compatriot Chris Froome on today’s stage to La Planche des Belles Filles.
On a brilliant day in which the sun shone on Britain’s contenders, Team Sky ripped the race apart on the steep 6km finishing climb in the Vosges mountains.
With the team’s effort having decimated the lead group to just five riders, Froome overhauled a late surge from Cadel Evans (BMC) to take the stage win while Wiggins clung to his closest challenger’s wheel to claim the yellow jersey from Fabian Cancellara (Radioshack-Nissan).
With the exception of Evans who finished in the same time, Wiggins gained ground on all his potential rivals, even Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas) who dropped five seconds in the final few hundred metres.
Cofidis’ Rein Taaramae was the fifth rider across the line but lost 19 seconds on the steepest section at the very top.
All of Wiggins’ other rivals for the overall were dispatched lower down as Sky set a relentless pace. The team were already nailing it when they passed the press room at the foot of the ascent and didn’t stop setting the pace until Evans tried a dig at 350m to go.
Denis Menchov (Katusha) finished 50 seconds behind Froome, Frank Schleck (Radioshack-Nissan) lost 1-09 and Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) 1-30.
Jurgen Van den Broeck (Lotto-Belisol) was unfortunate to unship a chain with 10km to go and, having had to try and chase back on before the climb, conceded the best part of two minutes.
With these considerable time gaps on such a short climb, the result sets the Tour up as a battle between Wiggins and Evans, although Nibali, Froome and Taaramae also confirmed their good form.
Froome had lost over a minute and a half when he punctured on the first road stage but now climbs back into the top ten.
Courtesy of being first to the top of the finishing climb, he also takes the King of the Mountains jersey.
Following the huge pileup on yesterday’s stage that had also reduced Wiggins’ potential challengers, seven riders failed to start today in Tomblaine, including Giro winner Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Sharp).
A seven rider break formed in the first half hour of racing comprising Christophe Riblon (Ag2r-La Mondiale), Chris Sorenson (Saxo Bank-Tinkov Bank), Martin Velits (Omega Pharma-Quick Step), Michael Albasini (Orica-Green Edge), Cyril Gautier (Europcar), Dmitriy Fofonov (Astana) and Luis-Leon Sanchez (Rabobank).
Peter Sagan (Liquigas) romped away with more green jersey points when he took eighth spot in the intermediate sprint in Gérdamer after a botched lead out effort from Matt Goss’ Orica-GreenEdge team.
The break was then reeled back by the ravaging bunch on the lower slopes of La Planche des Belles Filles, setting up Sky for their total domination.
Tomorrow Wiggins will lead the race on a particularly hilly stage to Porrentruy in Switzerland.
The remaining contenders will then face another showdown with a 41.5km time trial between Arc-et-Senans and Besancon.
Tour de France 2012, stage 7; Tomblaine – La Planche des Belles Filles, 199km
1. Chris Froome (GBr) Team Sky
2. Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC Racing Team at 2secs
3. Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Team Sky
4. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale at 7secs
5. Rein Taaramae (Est) Cofidis at 19secs
6. Haimar Zubeldia (Spa) Radioshack-Nissan at 44secs
7. Pierre Rolland (Fra) Europcar at 46secs
8. Janez Brajkovic (Slo) Astana
9. Denis Menchov (Rus) Katusha at 50secs
10. Maxime Monfort (Bel) Radioshack-Nissan at 56secs
11. Nicolas Roche (Irl) Ag2r-La Mondiale at 1-06
17. Daniel Martin (Irl) Garmin-Sharp at 1-39
100. Steve Cummings (GBr) BMC at 9-16
107. David Millar (GBr) Garmin-Sharp at 10-18
146. Mark Cavendish (GBr) Team Sky at 14-21
General classification after stage seven
1. Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Team Sky 34-21-20
2. Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC Racing Team at 10secs
3. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale at 16secs
4. Rein Taaramae (Est) Cofidis at 32secs
5. Denis Menchov (Rus) Katusha at 54secs
6. Haimar Zubeldia (Spa) Radioshack-Nissan at 59secs
7. Maxime Monfort (Bel) Radioshack-Nissan at 1-09
8. Nicolas Roche (Irl) Ag2r-La Mondiale at 1-22
9. Chris Froome (GBr) Team Sky at 1-32
10. Michael Rogers (Aus) Team Sky at 1-40
Michael Albasini heads the escape group
Chris Froome launches his stage-winning move
Chris Froome wins
Bradley Wiggins in the yellow jersey
Tour de France 2012: Latest news
Sky down to eight after Siutsou crash
Tour de France 2012: Teams, riders, start list
Tour de France 2012: Stage reports
Tour de France 2012: Comment, analysis, blogs
Tour de France 2012: Photo galleries
Tour de France 2012: Live text coverage
Tour de France 2012: Related links