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Wiggins takes huge step towards maiden Tour de France title

July 19, 2012 -- Updated 1537 GMT (2337 HKT)
Bradley Wiggins (R) retained the yellow jersey after an arduous 16th stage in the Tour de France
Bradley Wiggins (R) retained the yellow jersey after an arduous 16th stage in the Tour de France
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Team Sky's Bradley Wiggins strengthens his grip on the Tour de France after stage 16
  • British rider maintains advantage over teammate Chris Froome and Vincenzo Nibali
  • Wiggins holds off attacks from Nibali and extends advantage over rival Cadel Evans
  • French rider Thomas Voeckler wins the stage which traveled 197km through Pyrenees

(CNN) -- Bradley Wiggins maintained his firm grip on the Tour de France after repelling a series of attacks from his rivals during a brutal 197km stage through the Pyrenees won by France's Thomas Voeckler.

Wiggins came under intense pressure from Liquigas rider Vincenzo Nibali but kept pace with his rival to maintain his overall lead of two minutes and five seconds to Team Sky's colleague Chris Froome.

Nibali is a further 18 seconds back but Wiggins struck a decisive blow over Cadel Evans as the defending champion dropped eight minutes off the lead after falling behind on the Col de Peyresourde climb.

With just four stages remaining, and one of them a time trial leg in which Wiggins excels, it is looking increasingly like the 32-year-old is poised to become the first ever British Tour de France champion.

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He told reporters: "I'm glad that one is out of the way. The team were incredible again today. It's been hot out there so I'm pleased the team passed the test.

Bradley Wiggins, left, celebrates on the finish line with teammate Michael Rogers of Australia after becoming the first Briton to win the Tour de France on Sunday, July 22, in Paris. Bradley Wiggins, left, celebrates on the finish line with teammate Michael Rogers of Australia after becoming the first Briton to win the Tour de France on Sunday, July 22, in Paris.
Tour de France 2012: The best photos
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It ended up being the ideal scenario -- we put even more time into Cadel even if we didn't get rid of Nibali
Bradley Wiggins

"It was probably the hottest day on tour and on the day after a rest day, everybody responds differently to it.

"It ended up being the ideal scenario -- we put even more time into Cadel even if we didn't get rid of Nibali who was strong out there.

"I don't think Nibali is just racing for a podium place, not today anyway. He is a class bike rider and he gave us a good go out there. I would never underestimate him.

"It was a great day and it is another day ticked off. I don't think everyone else has let us go.

"Tomorrow is another day, and another challenge, and then everyone's thoughts will turn to the time trial -- which is as significant as a mountains stage in itself."

Evans blamed his poor performance on a stomach upset and admitted his Tour was now over given the distance between himself and Wiggins.

"I had a few stomach issues before the race and when you have that two hours before there's not a lot you can do," Evans told reporters.

"I didn't think it would affect me in the race but obviously that's not my normal level and it's pretty much the Tour de France over for me."

Voeckler was first over all four climbs on one of the competition's most difficult stages to reclaim the polka dot jersey which denotes the King of the Mountains. It was his second victory on this year's Tour and his fourth overall.

"For me it was like four races today," Voeckler said. "And each one was a climb. I never go and look at stages beforehand but I've been racing these mountains since I was 19-years-old.

"I knew this stage off by heart. I was leading each time I went over a mountain pass."

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