L'Esperance's time at the end of the 78km circuit marathon stage around the Wetherby Cattle Station was two hours, 54 minutes and seven seconds. Bouchard remains in the lead with just a one minute and 30 second lead over his fellow Canadian.
L'Esperance said he tried many times to get away from Bouchard.
"Leandre was very strong and marked me very closely. I did try to get away but inside the five kilometre mark it was going to come down to a sprint."
Elite women race leader Haley Smith had a tough day in the saddle and while she is still in the lead of that category, she is battling stomach issues.
Just the final stage time trial at Four Mile Beach in Port Douglas remains in this year's MEPT-Crocodile Trophy. But the toll on bikes and bodies is clearly evident.
"Most days the area around the mechanics tent looks like a battle field," said seven time finisher Martin Wisata. "There's bikes everywhere, bits hanging off, tyres blown out, levers bent, forks locked up...it's tough terrain up here and you can't underestimate the strain bikes and bodies are under each day."