Bradley Wiggins breaks Cadel Evans, but Nibali is a threat
Vincenzo Nibali says he cannot win the Tour de France after punishing stage, but Wiggins won't underestimate him
BRADLEY WIGGINS faces his last major test today as he edges ever closer to becoming the first Briton to win the Tour de France.
Having survived a punishing day in the saddle on Wednesday, Wiggins must now come through today's 143.5km stage from Bagneres-de-Luchon to the summit at Peyragudes.
Survive that ordeal without conceding any significant ground to his rivals and the 32-year-old Englishman will be all-but guaranteed the fabled Yellow Jersey when the Tour reaches the finish line in Paris on Sunday.
Wednesday’s 16th Stage from Pau to Bagneres-de-Luchon was brutal, particularly for defending Tour champion Cadel Evans who cracked going up one of the four peaks and saw his overall standing drop from fourth to seventh as a result. The stage was eventually won by Frenchman Thomas Voeckler with Chris Sorensen in second.
In contrast to Evans, Wiggins stood up well to the rigours of the merciless 197km, made all the more difficult by temperatures well above 30 degrees, though once again he was helped by Sky teammate Chris Froome.
"As a team I think we passed the test again," said Wiggins, who has now spent the last ten days wearing the leader’s Yellow Jersey.
"Another day ticked off but I don't think the others have eased up. Not yet. They gave us a good going over on the climbs today and tomorrow [Thursday] is another day, another challenge. Then I guess everyone will also start thinking about the time trial. That's a mountainous stage in itself."
The only lingering threat to Wiggins's Tour aspirations comes from the indefatigable Vincenzo Nibali. The Sicilian is third overall, 2min 23sec behind Wiggins and 18sec shy of Froome in second.
The 27-year-old did his best to break Wiggins ascending the fourth of Wednesday’s peaks - the Col de Peyresourde - but the Englishman dug in with Froome by his side the whole time. Nibali appeared to suggest afterwards that he is no longer capable of wresting the leader’s jersey from Wiggins.
"Sky were too strong today," Nibali said. "I'd still like to win the stage tomorrow, but it's getting too hard to open the door. I'm aiming for the podium."
That might be just mind games from Nibali, one of the toughest riders on the circuit who will know today represents one final opportunity to break his rival. But Wiggins shows no sign of taking the title for granted, saying of the Italian: “I don't think Nibali is just racing for a podium place... he is a class bike rider and he gave us a good go out there. I would never underestimate him.”