Trial of a champion: As the Team Sky machine delivers him to glory, Wiggins must prove why he is a worthy Tour winner
22:02 GMT, 20 July 2012
As the peloton dashed across the finish line, Bradley Wiggins climbed on to the podium, shook hands with French President Francois Hollande and collected his 11th yellow jersey of this year’s Tour de France.
Next stop was the Team Sky bus and a warmdown, a luxury he has not been afforded since he assumed the leadership of this race in the Jura mountains. A quick couple of interviews later and he was gone.
Not because he wasn’t in the mood to oblige but because, in spite of a near-certain triumph as the first British winner of the Tour, he still has something to prove. Every Tour champion passes into its legend with a performance of such crushing dominance that no-one can doubt his success.
Leaders: Bradley Wiggins is congratulated by French President Francois Hollande on Friday
Where it all started: Bradley Wiggins – aged four – with his new BMX
How it stands
1 B Wiggins 83hr 22min 18sec
2 C Froome +2min 05sec
3 V Nibali (It) Liquigas +2:41
4 J van den Broeck (Bel) Lotto +5:53
5 T Van Garderen (US) BMC +8:30
6 C Evans (A) BMC +9:57
7 H Agirre (Sp) RadioShack +10:11
8 P Rolland (F) Europcar +10:17
9 J Brajkovic (Slo) Astana +11:00
10 T Pinot (F) FDJ +11:46.
Wiggins has done so once, in the time trial at Besancon 12 days ago, yet the unpierced armour of the Sky battalion that has surrounded him for the past 2,100 miles as well as his perceived climbing inferiority to team-mate Chris Froome means he has to do so again.
Saturday's 33-mile flat time trial course from Bonneval to Chartres has become Wiggins’s mountain. He will roll down the ramp at the start line with an unswerving ambition — to show that he is the strongest rider in this race and that he deserves due honour.
Friday’s front page of France’s sports paper L’Equipe carried the headline: ‘The Stroll of the English.’ Inside were two more: ‘The plan is the plan’ and ‘One winner, one question.’
The front page was a reference to Sky’s unrelenting control of this race. The inside pages referred to team orders and the instructions passed to Froome on the upper slopes of first La Toussuire and then Peyragudes to wait for Wiggins.
Sky have now won four stages in the 2012 Tour. With Wiggins and, on Sunday, Mark Cavendish on the Parisian avenue he has made his own — the Champs-Elysees — they may end up with six. Wiggins and Froome will finish first and second overall. The logo of the team sponsors and the pale blue stripe on the black team jerseys have become a symbol of robotic efficiency.
Flower power: Wiggins has rarely been troubled while wearing yellow this summer
Tour by numbers
45 – bikes used, along with 59 helmets and 176 wheels
9,000 – calories consumed per day by each rider — three times the recommended amount for a normal adult male
2,173 – miles covered by each rider, the equivalent to three times the length of the United Kingdom
19 – different hotels used by the team in France
2kg – in weight lost by each rider on the Tour, as they simply cannot consume as much energy as they are expending getting over the mountains
Rivals are in awe of the precision of the Sky machine and jealous of the annual budget approaching 20million which has been able to attract the supporting cast including Froome, Michael Rogers, Richie Porte and Edvald Boasson Hagen to assure the inevitability of Wiggins’s success. They are also unsure how to prevent an era of British domination in road cycling.
Wiggins is seen as the leader of a team which could not have been beaten this year. The competition is thinner without the unpredictable brilliance of Alberto Contador to jump out of his saddle, on to his pedals and accelerate up the steepest mountains with utter disregard for gradients which defy those who would follow him.
And without the grinding rhythm of Andy Schleck to maintain a tempo which no-one but Contador can support, there has been nothing to disturb Sky’s equilibrium.
What has been absent, however, is excitement over the identity of the yellow jersey wearer. Tour history is filled with tales of derring-do, of riders desperately trying to break their rivals, of epic battles on bikes with altitude starving the brain of oxygen and the legs of strength. It is why Wiggins will not be saluted as the winner of a great Tour de France.
Rock solid: Wiggins has enjoyed superb support from his Team Sky pals
Marc Madiot, the man who gave him his professional road-race contract at the French team Francaise des Jeux and who still manages the team, is a Wiggins admirer, but even he cannot see the 2012 race as one which illuminates the 99-year history of Le Tour.
Madiot said: ‘I have a photo at home of Jacques Anquetil and Raymond Poulidor shoulder-to-shoulder on the Puy de Dome, bare-headed, not even glancing at each other. Nowadays, the riders fiddle with their earpieces and ask their computer if they can accelerate or not. Everything is antisepticised, put within parameters, informed by machines.
‘The riders check their heart-rates, their watts and tell themselves they will climb this or that mountain in 40 minutes. Everything is pre-ordained, whereas before it was all about intuition and having a go without knowing whether you would crack or not.
‘It will be great to see an English rider on the podium, especially Bradley, but everything fell into place this year. For him, it was this year or never.’
In the age of the computer Team Sky have become masters of the cycling universe. Their superiority is overwhelming. Wiggins needs to display the old-fashioned virtue of courage without limitations to seize his place in the annals of this great race.
Froome the servant shows he's ready to be a master
Chris Froome, the man who has inspired and on occasions dragged Bradley Wiggins around France, was a journeyman cyclist before joining Team Sky in 2010.
Born in Kenya and raised in South Africa, Froome, 27, has an English father and grandparents. He represented Kenya in the 2006 World Championships time trial but his early years as a professional road cyclist for the Barloworld team were blighted by a lack of support and injury.
He finished second in last year’s Vuelta a Espana, showing his ability to climb as well as emerging as a time-trialist. It is this magic combination which has marked him out as a contender for this year’s Tour and a potential future winner.
His burst to the line up the lung-bursting climb of the Planche des Belles Filles earned the Stage 7 victory. His ability at altitude means that Froome’s role has been to guide team leader Bradley Wiggins up the final climb of the day in the mountain stages.
As a super-domestique (a luxury servant), Froome has to obey team orders and thus sacrificed his chance of a stage victory on the climbs to La Toussuire and Peyragudes to safeguard Wiggins' position.