Race favorite Bradley Wiggins took command of the Tour de France Saturday as Sky teammate Christopher Froome secured a deserved maiden victory on stage seven. Defending champion Cadel Evans of Australia finished second, with Wiggins in third only seconds behind as Sky's pace on the final, 5.9 km climb to the race's first hilltop finish exacted a costly toll on some contenders.
BMC leader Evans, who made a futile bid for the stage win only to be passed by Froome in the final 100 metres, is now second overall at 10 seconds behind Wiggins. Italian Vincenzo Nibali of Liquigas, considered the biggest challenger to Evans and Wiggins, is third at 16 with Estonian Rein Taaramae of Cofidis in fourth at 32.
"It's a great day for the team," said Wiggins, who started the first day in the hills in second place only 7 seconds behind Fabian Cancellara. "I wanted to go for the yellow jersey and for Chris to win the stage but I had to tell him to slow down towards the end to keep something for the finish."
Ahead of another, arguably trickier day in the Swiss Jura on Sunday and the first of two long time trials on Monday, Wiggins said it was not too early to take the race lead.
He said: "I don't think it's ever too early to take the lead of the Tour de France. It's the yellow jersey. "It's the hardest and biggest race in the world. It's huge for me, something I've dreamt about since I was a kid."
Team Sky came to the race with a number of talented climbers and their high pace-setting from the bottom of the steep climb to the ski station finish line was too much for some. Michael Rogers led the way from the first, steep pitches and with 3.8 km of the 199km remaining Australian compatriot Richie Porte took over at the front. Nairobi-born Froome then took up the duties of pacing Wiggins with 2.1 km to race, dropping Russian Denis Menchov among others in the process. At that point, only Evans, Wiggins, Nibali and Taaramae could hold on. Evans then made a move for victory with just over 350 meters to go but on one of the steepest sections of the climb Froome eased past the Australian to come over the finish with room to spare.
"I'm really happy because I didn't expect this, not in the Tour de France," said Froome, who claimed his maiden Grand Tour stage win on last year's Tour of Spain where he finished runner-up just ahead of Wiggins.
Former podium finisher Frank Schleck, meanwhile, was among the Radioshack riders dropped relatively early, along with German teammate Andreas Kloden, American Chris Horner and, as expected, overnight race leader Cancellara. RadioShack's best placed rider is now Spanish veteran Haimar Zubeldia in fifth at 59.
Tour de France Stage 7
1. Chris Froome (GBR/SKY) 4:58:35
2. Cadel Evans (AUS/BMC) @ .02
3. Bradley Wiggins (GBR/SKY) @ s.t.
4. Vincenzo Nibali (ITA/LIQ) @ .07
5. Rein Taaramae (EST/COF) @ .19
6. Haimar Zubeldia (ESP/RSH) @ .44
7. Pierre Rolland (FRA/EUC) @ .46
8. Janez Brajkovic (SLO/AST) @ s.t.
9. Denis Menchov (RUS/KAT) @ .50
10. Maxime Monfort (BEL/RSH) @ .56
General Classification After Stage 7
1. Bradley Wiggins (GBR/SKY) 34:21:20
2. Cadel Evans (AUS/BMC) @ .10
3. Vincenzo Nibali (ITA/LIQ) @ .16
4. Rein Taaramae (EST/COF) @ .32
5. Denis Menchov (RUS/KAT) @ .54
6. Haimar Zubeldia (ESP/RSH) @ .59
7. Maxime Monfort (BEL/RSH) @ 1:09
8. Nicolas Roche (IRL/ALM) @ 1:22
9. Chris Froome (GBR/SKY) @ 1:32
10. Michael Rogers (AUS/SKY) @ 1:40