1. ITV Report

Wiggins edging closer after mountain stage

Bradley Wiggins wears the yellow jersey as the peloton climb the mountains Photo:

Four days stand between Bradley Wiggins and a first British victory in the Tour de France after the Team Sky leader survived the searing heat and repeated attacks to keep a commanding lead in the yellow jersey.

The 99th edition of cycling's most fabled race hinges on tomorrow's 143.5-kilometre 17th stage from Bagneres-de-Luchon to the summit at Peyragudes, when Wiggins (Team Sky) will wear the maillot jaune for a 10th day and again expects to have to repel attempted assaults from Vincenzo Nibali.

The 197km 16th stage from Pau to Bagneres-de-Luchon was won by Thomas Voeckler (Europcar), with Wiggins finishing alongside Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale) and Team Sky colleague Chris Froome.

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

Wiggins 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 that 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.

"I'd still like to win the stage tomorrow, but it's getting too hard to open the door."

Nibali remains in contention, but defending champion Evans is out of it.

The Australian struggled on the day's penultimate climb, the Col d'Aspin, as Nibali's team-mate Ivan Basso increased the pace of the ascent.

A grimacing Evans was spat out the back, before three team-mates took him back to the yellow jersey group on the descent.

But as soon as the Col du Peyresourde ramped up, Evans floundered once more and lost 4:47 to Wiggins, Froome and Nibali, falling to seventh overall, 8:06 adrift.

"That's pretty much the Tour de France over for me," said Evans, who has suffered an upset stomach in recent days.

"I don't know if I'm far enough back now to be given the freedom to go in a breakaway. You have to be optimistic, but realistic too.

"It's not the retirement present I was hoping to give to (BMC Racing team-mate) George Hincapie."

It was a day of two races - one for the stage, the other for the yellow jersey.

Voeckler broke free of the early 38-man escape to solo to a fourth Tour stage victory after launching his attack on the day's final climb, with Chris Anker Sorensen (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff) second, 1:40 behind and Gorka Izaguirre (Euskaltel-Euskadi) third, 3:22 adrift.

Nibali was 11th, 7:09 behind on the day, with Wiggins on his wheel and Froome a place further back.

The Italian appears to be the only realistic challenger to a Team Sky and British victory, but with Saturday's 53.5km time-trial Wiggins' forte, Nibali must make time gains on tomorrow's final mountain stage.

Wiggins, who has led since stage seven, opted out of the traditional post-stage media demands, which delay the opportunity for recovery, in order to focus on recuperating for a key stage ahead.

Wiggins added: "We've got a good scenario for the final day in the mountains but the process now starts - recovering, eating, drinking lots and getting ready right away.

"I'll have a warm down and start thinking about tomorrow."

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