So, has Bradley Wiggins won this thing then?
It looks very much like it. His rivals threw a lot at him during the first week, but he’s drawn inexorably away from them, both in terms of time and in stature.
The yellow jersey looks very secure on his lanky frame, but there is a long way to go.
After the Besancon time trial Wiggins was asked if he’d already won the Tour and he replied, “I hope not because we’ve 13 more hotels booked and we won’t get our money back.”
It was a great answer, classic Wiggo, but one he followed with, “The fat lady hasn’t even entered the room yet.”
That was more serious, there is a long way to go and he knows it. But that answer as much as his performance so far makes me confident. Wiggins isn’t taking anything for granted and will hunker down for a fight.
It will come. There’s plenty of terrain for a real battle. For example, we haven’t even seen a big mountain yet.
Wednesday’s stage offers the first chance to attack. The Col du Grand Colombier is said by many to be the toughest road climb in France. It’s 16 kilometres long and is basically two steep sections joined by a flat one.
The thing is, the gradient of the two steep bits isn’t very constant, there are two sections of 12 percent climbing, and where it’s constant the gradient is constantly steep; like two kilometres of 10 percent five kilometres in, then one kilometre at 11 k and one at the top.
The climbers will try to put the bite on Wiggins going up, and the good descenders will do it on the way down.
And that will be the pattern for the rest of the Tour. Evans, Nibali and the rest must keep up the pressure all the way.
I still don’t think they can beat Wiggins, but he might crack, and there’s a subtle difference.
Wiggins is nervous in a bunch, and nervous on the descents. It’s a known fact, his team had a terrible time keeping him at the front during last year’s Tour of Spain. It’s part of his Achilles heel.
The rest is his temperament, something old Tour racers (I’m thinking Lance Armstrong, Bernard Hinault, Eddy Merckx to a certain extent and Jacques Anquetil definitely) would have worked on.
You don’t know from day to day which Bradley Wiggins will get up, and that could be worked on because you can rattle the wrong Bradley, the one who is in the wrong state of mind. Well, you could.
Today’s men of the Tour don’t seem to do that. Nibali tried, saying he wasn’t impressed by Wiggins, then saying that Froome impressed him more. It read a bit like desperation, though.
Not that I think it would work. I don’t want to put a dampener on Australian, Italian, Russian or even Belgian hopes, but apart from one tiny, tiny moment on the uphill finish at Boulogne Wiggins hasn’t shown any sign of vulnerability all year.
But there is still the unknown, ten stages of it. The 11th, the final run in to Paris never changes things nowadays.
By far the best hand to play would be BMC sending Tejay Van Garderen on the attack.
Sky would have to chase, tiring them, and if BMC went early enough and the chase used up enough Sky riders, Wiggins could be isolated. That would be time for Evans to strike. If it comes far enough out he could win the Tour.
The Alpine stage to La Toussuire would be good to try it, especially as it kicks off with two hard climbs, and the descent of the Col du Mollard just before the final climb is very tricky. All things that Wiggins is not supposed to be not as good at.
Evans’ other big chance is to keep prodding and pushing while staying as close as possible to Wiggins, wait for the inevitable fatigue to set into him and into Team Sky then hit him early on stage 17.
That’s a gnarly trek through the Pyrenees with a mountain-top finish. The roads are narrow, heavy and the Pyrenees have a capricious climate. Ex-mountain biker is written all over that one, and it says ex-track racer beware.
It’s only my opinion, and maybe a bit of rose-tinted wishful thinking, I am English, but it does look like Wiggins has this thing won. And Chris Froome is holding his coat should he stumble.
What do you think?
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