Defending Tour champion Cadel Evans, center, lost 4:47 and slipped from fourth place overall to seventh. (Associated Press)
Defending Tour champion Cadel Evans, center, lost 4:47 and slipped from fourth place overall to seventh. (Associated Press)

Evans all but loses chance to defend Tour title

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.

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 he 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.”

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