Wiggins can hit Tour target two years ahead of schedule
When the yet-to-be-launched Team Sky announced in 2009 its intention to produce a Tour de France winner within five years, everybody laughed. Less than four years later, no-one is laughing any more, with Bradley Wiggins entering cycling’s most prestigious three-week race as the man to beat following an impressive season that has seen him complete a hat-trick of race victories never achieved before.
No Briton has ever won the Tour, but Wiggins, a three-time sOlympic champion who used to race the Tour as part of his training for the track, is in the form of his life after becoming the first rider in history to win Paris-Nice, the Tour of Romandie and the Criterium du Dauphine in one season.
“Since I was 12, I always thought about winning the Tour, but never maybe thought that it would be a reality,” said Wiggins ahead of Saturday’s Tour prologue in Liege, Belgium.
In a year that could also see him triumph at the London Olympic Games, Wiggins holds all the aces to fulfil his dream. No other rider, including defending champion Cadel Evans of Australia, has enjoyed such success this season, and Wiggins will start the Tour as the leader of the strongest team in the field.
“The team’s preparation has been perfectly managed and our form this season gives us a great chance of being successful,” Wiggins said. “I’ve been waiting for this moment for a long time and I’ll do everything I can to win the Tour de France.”
In the absence of the two best climbers in the world, Spaniard Alberto Contador and Andy Schleck of Luxembourg, and a route featuring more than 100 kilometres of time trials, this year’s Tour is Wiggins’ best chance to improve on his fourth-place finish in 2009, the year he turned his back on track to focus on his road career.
Wiggins joined British-based team Sky at the end of the 2009 season. After losing weight but keeping his track power, he aimed for a better Tour result in 2010, but his campaign floundered and he finished a disappointing 24th.
With the help of trainer Tim Kerrison, Wiggins bought into the scientific methods of his new team and changed his approach to training, competing in fewer races but always aiming to win.
Wiggins got off to a strong start in 2011 and looked set to make an impact at the Tour, but his hopes of glory were dashed in the seventh stage when a crash knocked him out with a broken collarbone. He bounced back with a third place at the Vuelta a Espana for his first Grand Tour podium before helping his team-mate, Mark Cavendish, win the road race world title.
The 32-year-old Londoner has consistently improved since.
“I guess the biggest thing for me last year was never dwelling too much on the successes I had and instead always looking forward to the next target,” he said. “I think that’s continuing right now. We’ve spent months looking towards this year and planning for it. And we’ve not been resting on any laurels.”
Wiggins can count on the depth of his team, which put on an impressive display of collective strength during the Dauphine, controlling the race in a manner reminiscent of Miguel Indurain’s Banesto or Lance Armstrong’s US Postal outfits.
Wiggins will be supported by world-class riders such as Edvald Boasson Hagen, Cavendish, Bernhard Eisel, Chris Froome, Richie Porte and Michael Rogers.
“Chris, Mick, and Richie are among our strongest climbers and will all be there to support Bradley in the mountains, but then we’ve got riders like Christian [Knees] and Kosta [Kanstantsin Siutsou] who have strong engines on the flats, and versatile riders like Edvald and Bernhard who can support Mark in the sprints,” Sky boss Dave Brailsford said.
Cavendish won’t look to defend the green jersey he won with the defunct HTC team last year. His main focus is the Olympic road race on July 28, less than a week after the Tour ends in Paris.
“I probably won’t win as much personally, in stages, but to be part of a team with real ambitions of winning the Tour de France overall is an honour,” Cavendish said. “In Bradley, we’ve the biggest chance we’ll ever have as a nation, with a British team and with a British rider. It’s exciting to go in and follow that ambition.”
Fifty years after Tom Simpson became the first Briton to wear the yellow jersey, Wiggins will start as the bookmakers’ favourite. But, after putting the finishing touches to his preparations in Tenerife, where he also trained at altitude, he tried to shake off his favourite tag.
“Cadel is the man to beat,” Wiggins said. “He was the winner last year, he’s a good time-triallist, a good climber, he can win sprints on small mountains, so he without doubt is still the man to beat for this year’s Tour. And he wants it, he fights all the time, he never gives up so, for me, he’s the main man.”
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