France, July 18, 2012 - Cadel Evan's hopes of defending his 2011 Tour de France crown were virtually ended on the race's 16th stage Wednesday. Evans, Australia's first yellow jersey champion, began the penultimate mountain stage in fourth overall at 3min 19sec behind Britain's Bradley Wiggins.
At the end of the 197 km stage from Pau to Bagneres-de-Luchon which took in four major climbs the BMC rider added nearly eight minutes to his significant deficit.
Evans, and indeed other contenders, have struggled to counter the impressive pace-setting of Team Sky on the race's tough climbs. The 35-year-old showed the first signs of weakness on the 12.4 km climb to the summit of the Col d'Aspin.
As the yellow jersey peloton trailed a two-man leading group, a turn of pace at the front by the Liquigas team dropped Evans and several other riders three kilometres from the summit. He came over the summit with a 45sec deficit to Wiggins and the two other men who began the day ahead of him in the general classification - Italian Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas) and Sky rider Chris Froome of Britain.
It was a huge setback but Evans dug deep on the descent and, thanks to three of his BMC teammates the Australian managed to close the gap to Wiggins' group by the start of the final, 9.5 km climb to the summit of the Peyresourde. Early on the climb, however, Evans showed again he did not have the pace to follow when Belgian Jelle Vanendert, working for Lotto team leader Jurgen Van den Broeck, took over the pace-setting.
The Australian was left trailing once and for all and ended up rallying the finish with teammate George Hincapie and several others at 11:53 behind stage winner Thomas Voeckler and nearly five minutes behind Wiggins, Nibali and Froome. Evans is now seventh overall at 8:05