BELLEGARDE-SUR-VALSERINE, France: Britain’s Bradley Wiggins retained the yellow jersey on the first day of the Tour de France in the Alps Wednesday as France’s Thomas Voeckler won the 10th stage.
Voeckler, of the Europcar team, capped an impressive game of cat and mouse with several rivals in the closing kilometers of the stage to claim his first victory of this year’s race and third of his career.
Italian Michele Scarponi (Lampre) at three seconds was second with German veteran Jens Voigt (RadioShack) third at seven.
Wiggins retained his 1:53 overnight lead on BMC leader Cadel Evans, with Sky teammate Chris Froome still third overall at 2:07 and Italian Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas) at 2:23.
Nibali was one of two riders along with Jurgen Van den Broeck to try and attack Wiggins, on the descent of the Grand Colombier climb.
His Sky team set a pace that quickly reeled the Italian in before the final, short climb to the summit of the Col de Richemond.
“I didn’t panic when he attacked,” said Wiggins. “He’s over two minutes behind me and I knew he’d have to be really strong in the valley if he was to stay away.”
Voeckler, who almost pulled out of the race just after the start because of tendinitis in his knee, was among a 25-man breakaway that attacked early in the stage.
As the demands of the climbs took a toll on the frontrunners, the 33-year-old Frenchman, who finished 4th in last year’s race after wearing yellow for 10 days, was among a far smaller group that stayed out at the front and built a five minute lead on the peloton.
A late counterattack by Voigt threatened to steal Voeckler’s thunder, especially when the German went off in pursuit of Dries Devenyns of the Omega-Pharma team after the Belgian attacked with 3.5 km to race.
But on the small rise leading to the finish line Voeckler found the strength to leave breakaway rivals Scarponi and Luis Leon Sanchez in his wake to overtake both Voigt and Devenyns. “I really didn’t think I would win the stage until I was about 5 meters from the finish line,” said a beaming Voeckler.