Wiggins shapes as biggest threat to Cadel’s Tour success
British Bradley Wiggins reacts after wearing the yellow jersey. AP Photo/Lionel Cironneau
As Bradley Wiggins powered to both a stage and an overall victory in the final time trial at the Tour de Romandie he demonstrated why many observers have him pegged as the key favourite for this year’s Tour de France.
Wiggins’ preparation appears to be a long way ahead of Cadel Evans and both Andy and Frank Schleck.
In 2012 he has already collected strong victories at Paris-Nice and now the Tour de Romandie, by winning the time trial stages and producing respectable performances in the hilly stages.
This is a proven successful formula at the Tour de France, just ask former winners like Indurain, Ullrich, Armstrong and of course Evans, whose destruction of Andy Schleck in the stage 20 time trial last year is still fresh in the memory.
This year’s Tour parcours feature two long, relatively flat, individual time trials: stage 9 is a 38km into Besançon and stage 19 covers 52km from Bonneval to Chartres.
A time triallist of Wiggins’ calibre could easily take three or four minutes out of the pure climbers over that combined distance. He’d have to have a couple of terrible days in the mountains to lose that much time.
It’s easy to forget that Wiggins was unlucky to crash out of the 2011 Tour de France on stage seven, suffering a broken collarbone. After defeating Evans at the Dauphine, he was in sparkling form. We’ll never know what might have been, and it only takes one bad day to lose the Tour, but there is a sense that Wiggins has unfinished business after that bitter disappointment.
Wiggins will be supported by a Sky team with an embarrassment of talent to select from, including powerhouse super-domestiques like Mick Rogers, Richie Porte, and Geraint Thomas. They could also select potent attacking weapons such as Juan Antonio Flecha and Edvald Boasson Hagen, to disrupt the peloton or get up the road in a breakaway if required.
If the team can avoid wearing itself out chasing down breakaways and setting up lead-out trains for sprinter Mark Cavendish, there are several riders in the squad capable of bringing Wiggins safely to the final climb of the day with plenty of support.
Sky’s split leadership is one possible avenue of attack for the other teams: if he can be isolated, Wiggins may be vulnerable on the steeper mountain stages. Stages 11, 16 and 17 will be key.
Constant attacks from BMC, Radioshack Nissan Trek, Movistar, Liquigas and Astana may be a way of dulling the legs of Sky over the first two weeks. Careful team management will be required to ensure Wiggins’ mountain lieutenants don’t burn out too early.
The Tour de Romandie has revealed that Wiggins’ form continues to improve. He is sitting out the Giro d’Italia (along with Rogers and Porte) and is likely to recover over the next few days and then hit a block of solid training before returning to race the Dauphine in June.
Evans will do the same, and try to rediscover his best performances after illness and a disappointing Tour de Romandie. On the evidence so far this season, he has some catching up to do over the next two months. There is still time, but the pressure is building.
The good news is that if Wiggins does manage to become the first Brit to win the Tour, we’ve still got a tenuous claim on him: his father Gary was Australian.
Tim Renowden has been following professional cycling closely since Indurain won his first Tour. A former A-grade club athlete, and now a keen recreational cyclist and roller racer, he once rode very slowly up Mont Ventoux. Tim tweets about sport at @timehhh_sp.
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