Martin shines as Evans’ hopes fade in Pyrenees

On a day when the defending champion, Cadel Evans’ defence of his Tour de France title disintegrated on the perilously steep slopes of the Pyrenees, Ireland’s Dan Martin turned in one of the performances of his career to finish seventh on yesterday’s 16th stage from Pau to Bagnères-de-Luchon.

Martin, riding his first Tour, in the colours of the Garmin-Sharp outfit, was part of a 38-man breakaway group that forged clear of a splintered peloton early on in the 197-kilometre stage and he was instrumental in thinning out that group to three by the time they hit the famed Tourmalet.

The 26-year-old climber surged clear with eventual stage winner Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) and Brice Feilliu (Saur Sojasun) but paid for his exertions when he was dropped one kilometre from the summit and never regained contact.

He closed the gap to 35 seconds on the descent and was joined by George Hincapie (BMC) Jens Voigt (Radioshack-Nissan), Laurens Ten Dam (Rabobank), Vasill Kiryienka (Astanta) and Chris Anker Sorensen (Saxo Bank) en route to the Col d’Aspin but Voeckler and Feilliu were out of sight by now.

Martin crossed the line just over six minutes down on the irrepressible Voeckler — who took his second win of the race, and was over a minute ahead of the yellow jersey group of Bradley Wiggins (Team Sky).

Ireland’s other Tour competitor, Nicolas Roche (Ag2R La Mondiale) moved up one place on the overall GC to 11th following another excellent ride that saw him just lose contact with Wiggins and a host of other race contenders on the approach and come in just over a minute behind him in 14th position.

Froome remained second overall, two minutes five seconds behind, with Nibali 18 seconds further adrift and no other rider within five minutes of Wiggins.

The British rider, however, claims he is not yet ready to be crowned champion, but his rivals appear to have conceded defeat.

The 32-year-old triple Olympic champion said: “I don’t think the others have eased up trying to beat me and start thinking of the other places on the podium. Not yet.

“They gave us a good go over on the climbs today and tomorrow is another day, another challenge.

“We’ve created the ideal scenario by putting even more time into Cadel Evans and although we weren’t able to get rid of Nibali, who is very strong, it was a great day.”

Nibali attacked twice on the day’s final climb, the Col du Peyresourde, but Wiggins and Froome worked together to bridge the gap and the Italian appears resigned to settling for second best.

“Sky were too strong today. I’m aiming for the podium,” Nibali said.

The race essentially hinges on today’s 143.5-kilometre stage from Bagneres-de-Luchon to the summit at Peyragudes, when Wiggins (Team Sky) will wear the maillot jaune for a 10th day and should he repel the expected assaults of third place Vincenzo Nibali, only a miracle will prevent him from becoming the first ever British rider to win the world’s most iconic bike race.

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