BAGNERES-DE-LUCHON, France — Cadel Evans' vision of repeating as Tour de France champion vanished under the sun-baked punishment of the Pyrenees mountains on Wednesday, as Bradley Wiggins took another step toward taking the yellow jersey home.
French fan favorite Thomas Voeckler took a starring role into big climbs along the Spanish border, winning Stage 16 in a breakaway as Wiggins kept his big rivals a bay — or dusted them.
"It's pretty much the Tour de France over for me," Evans said.
The 35-year-old Australian fell from fourth to seventh overall, and trails Wiggins by 8 minutes, 6 seconds, after struggling on the last two of four climbs in the stage. He cited stomach problems.
"When you have it two hours before the race there's not a lot you can do," Evans said. "I did not think it would affect me in the race, but obviously that's not my normal level."
As if the four ascents weren't hard enough, cycling's big event was also trying to get over the re-emergence of another longtime challenge: The doping-marred image that has hung over the sport.
Late Tuesday, Frank Schleck of the RadioShack team was sent packing after cycling's governing body UCI said an anti-doping lab's test on his urine turned up a banned diuretic. The 32-year-old Luxembourg rider placed third at last year's Tour.
Two big final shakedowns in the race await in today's stage in the Pyrenees, featuring an uphill finish, and Saturday's time trial, though other pratfalls and pitfalls could await.
But Wednesday's stage went a long way toward shaping up the likeliest Tour podium when the race ends Sunday in Paris: Wiggins, Sky teammate Christopher Froome, and Vincenzo Nibali of Italy. They all gained key breathing space by beating their 10 closest chasers by about 1, 2 or 5 minutes.
Voeckler dominated the 123-mile course from Pau to Bagneres-de-Luchon, the Frenchman leading a breakaway for his second stage victory of the Tour.
Tour de France glance
Yellow Jersey: Bradley Wiggins of Britain retained the race lead ahead of Sky teammate Christopher Froome, who is 2 minutes, 5 seconds behind. Italian climber Vincenzo Nibali is third, 2:23 off the pace.
Stat of the day: 4:47 — the time conceded by defending champ Cadel Evans to Wiggins during Wednesday's brutal stage.
Today's stage: An 89-mile trek over four categorized climbs, including the beyond classification Port de Bales, and finishing with the unprecedented summit finish at the Peyragudes ski resort.
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