Rolland wins Tour stage; Wiggins extends lead

LA TOUSSUIRE, France — Pierre Rolland of France won the most difficult Alpine stage in the Tour de France on Thursday, and Bradley Wiggins beat defending champion Cadel Evans in the final climb to extend his overall lead.

Rolland gave the Europcar team its second straight stage win after the 92-mile ride in the Alps from Albertville ended with a grueling ascent to the ski resort of La Toussuire.

Rolland won by 55 seconds, ahead of Thibaut Pinot of France and Christopher Froome of Britain. Wiggins and two rivals for the title— Jurgen Van Den Broeck of Belgium and Vincenzo Nibali of Italy — were another two seconds slower.

“I’d been dreaming about this stage for six months … I got all sorts of messages this morning saying `it’s your turn, it’s your turn,”’ Rolland said. “My second victory in the Alps in two years — I don’t have the words to describe the feeling.”

He won despite skidding to the ground in a crash during the last big downhill.

“That’s not going to stop me,” he said.

Wiggins, along with Froome and other Sky teammates, repelled repeated attacks by his yellow jersey rivals over three huge ascents in the ride. Evans fell from second place overall— possibly seeing his repeat hopes vanish — after losing more than a minute to Wiggins.

Evans began the day 1:53 behind Wiggins.

The route was brutal, with at least 40 miles of climbs, over two of the most grueling ascents in pro cycling, plus a nasty uphill finish.

Under relentless sun, riders’ faces bore climbing agony: Tongues wagging, teeth gritting, mouths agape or, as in the case of American veteran Christopher Horner, a smile — perhaps in pain.

Wiggins said he felt “relief” in the last few miles, especially knowing that Evans had been dropped — an outcome the Briton had not expected.

The race stays in the Alps on Friday with a 140-mile ride from Saint-Jean-De-Maurienne to Annonay Davezieux.

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