A COUNTER attack from yellow jersey Bradley Wiggins and Team Sky colleague Chris Froome saw the Britons move into first and second place overall after stage 11 of the Tour de France as the race entered the high Alps.
On a 148-kilometre route from Albertville to La Toussuire which Wiggins had described as the toughest day of the route to Paris, the 32-year-old Londoner survived repeated attempted attacks on his commanding lead as Pierre Rolland (Europcar) triumphed.
Defending champion Cadel Evans (BMC Racing) made a short-lived attack two thirds of the way up the 22.4km Col de la Croix de Fer, the second of the day's two 'hors categorie' (beyond category) climbs.
The forlorn attempt was perhaps an indication of his form as Evans, who began the day one minute 53 seconds behind in second place, lost touch with Wiggins two thirds of the way up the final climb.
Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale), fourth at the start of the day, twice attacked on the 18km final ascent to La Toussuire, but Froome and Wiggins shared the pursuit to close the gap.
As Rolland claimed a solo success, Thibaut Pinot (FDJ-Bigmat) won the dash for the line to claim second, 55 seconds behind, with Froome third on the same time. Jurgen van den Broeck was fourth, Nibali fifth and Wiggins sixth, two seconds further adrift.
Evans rolled in 2mins 23secs behind, conceding 1:28 to Froome, who moved up to second place in the rankings.
Wiggins was set to enter tomorrow's 226km 12th stage from Saint-Jean de Maurienne to Annonay-Davezieux with a 2:05 advantage over Froome, with Nibali third, 2:23 behind, and Evans 3:19 adrift in fourth.
Van den Broeck (Lotto-Belisol) sits fifth, 4:48 behind.
The action on the day's first ascent, the 25.3km Col de la Madeleine, was relatively uneventful, with a 26-man escape up the road.
Demon descender Nibali made a late move to attack the yellow jersey group, but a mechanical problem slowed his progress.
Team Sky, with Christian Knees, leading Michael Rogers, Richie Porte, Wiggins and Froome, led the peloton at a high tempo when Evans made his burst on the day's second hors category climb, with 81km remaining.
The Australian had support from team-mate Tejay van Garderen but Team Sky, with Rogers taking to the front and Knees falling back, appeared unflustered.
Their confidence seemed justified when Evans was unable to go at the pace of Van Garderen and was quickly reeled in by the Rogers-led peloton.
As the remnants of the day's escape fought for position into the final climb, a fascinating battle of the overall contenders unfolded behind them.
Rogers, his work done after a long haul at the front of the peloton, fell back as Porte assumed the pace-making role ahead of Froome and Wiggins.
Van den Broeck, Evans and Nibali were behind Wiggins in the 14-rider group with 12km to go.
Janez Brajkovic (Astana) broke clear, Pinot and Van den Broeck followed.
Nibali then made a move around 11km from the finish and Froome took to the front as Porte fell back.
Froome increased the pace and challengers were shed from the group as he quickly caught Nibali, who burst again at 10km to go.
Wiggins, Froome, Evans, Van Garderen and Frank Schleck kept the tempo high in pursuit.
Nibali bridged the gap to the Van den Broeck group before Wiggins took control of the pace setting by moving to the front himself.
Froome and Wiggins shared responsibility for the chase and Evans could not sustain the pace. Van Garderen dropped back to help his leader as Froome and Wiggins forged on, with Schleck losing touch soon after, and with under 5km to go, Nibali's group was caught.
Froome accelerated again but reduced the pace when he realised Wiggins was not with him, checking on his radio for his leader's position.
Froome then resumed his position in front of Wiggins as the duo increased the advantage over Evans.
With Wiggins content to follow Nibali's wheel in the finale, Froome forged on seeking to claim second place and succeeded as Evans struggled to the finish.
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