Wiggins will be severely tested in hills
An interesting pre-Tour statement may come back to haunt Bradley Wiggins this weekend. As the race sweeps into the hills for the first time, the Team Sky leader will be under more pressure than ever to maintain his slender lead over his closest rivals.
Denis Menchov (six seconds), Cadel Evans (ten seconds) and Vincenzo Nibali (11 seconds) will all test the Englishman’s legs as the Tour takes on a whole new appearance.
While the weekend’s climbs are not of any notable length, they are outrageously steep and will provide the perfect opportunity for attacks on Wiggins, especially by riders not wanting to lose more time to him at Monday’s 41.5 kilometre individual time trial.
It promises to be a dynamic two days of racing with repeated attacks by a number of riders. Wiggins and his team will have to be at their very, very best if they are to withstand the pressure.
But a pre-Tour Wiggins used science to dismiss suggestions that pressure will play its part.
“I don’t think pressure comes into it when the numbers suggest nobody is going to get close to you,” said Wiggins after his victory at Dauphine last month. He based this assessment on his VAM (vertical altitude metres) numbers, a measurement that indicates how many vertical metres are climbed per hour.
The average VAM for last year’s big Tour climbs was 1400 – 1500 metres per hour. On the second last day at Dauphine, Wiggins climbed the Col du Jox-Plane at 1700 metres per hour.
“There aren’t many riders who can go that fast, and there weren’t many able to stay with us on that stage,” he pointed out.
It is elite riding, make no mistake about it, and it is an effort to be applauded, but it wasn’t the best performance that day. An ill and out of sorts Cadel Evans did it faster!
While Wiggins did go onto say that the Tour is not just about numbers, and that consistent performance day after day is a pre-requisite, his VAM figures will count for nought this weekend.
These climbs are not the long drags typical of the Tour that allow you to get into a rhythm and spin your way to the top. They are vicious, steep monsters with pitching gradients and ramps in excess of 20 percent.
VAM will mean nothing as the riders ascend La Planche Des Belles Filles at the conclusion of Saturday’s seventh stage. Peaking out at 28 percent towards the end, it will be enough just to survive. It is on stages such as this that Wiggins will be vulnerable and his rivals know it.
Sunday’s stage eight could be anything. With the route profile resembling a saw blade and seven categorised climbs squeezed into 157.5 kilometres, there will be no time for recovery between efforts.
Again the climbs are short, the longest being eight kilometres over the category two Cote de Maison-Rouge, but they are steep. The final climb over the Cote de la Croix averages 9.2 percent and if the likes of Evans or Sammy Sanchez crest it first, they won’t be caught. They will use their descending skills to make the most of the 16 kilometre drop into the finishing town of Porrentruy.
If Wiggins can survive the ambushes, then he stands a fair chance of winning his first Grand Tour. If not he needs to bust a gut to limit his losses and leave nothing to waste at Monday’s individual time trial. He needs to make it through to the longer, less severe climbs in order to bring that VAM into play and be in contact with the big names coming into the final stage 19 time trial.
Because if he isn’t, there is a trio of former grand tour winners who will make him pay. Evans, Nibali and Menchov will show no mercy.