Bradley Wiggins’ imperious victory at the Dauphiné time trial made him the strong favourite for the Tour. But the yellow jersey isn’t won yet.

Words by Kenny Pryde

Thursday June 7, 2012

Has there been a more dissected time trial in 2012 than stage four of the 2012 Critérium du Dauphiné? True, the final time trial of the Giro had a lot going on, but it was all about that stage, done and dusted. This stage four time trial was as much about the Tour de France as the impact on the general classification of the Dauphiné.

When Sky’s Bradley Wiggins trounced everyone – world time trial champion Tony Martin as well as his direct rivals for the general classification of the Dauphiné – it was easy to get carried away and announce that Wiggins was odds-on for a win in the Tour de France. Having almost caught 2011 Tour champ Cadel Evans on the road – the Australian started two minutes ahead of Wiggins – and having put his GC rivals at more than a minute, it wasn’t exactly a leap.

But let’s not get carried away with the auguries and entrails of the 53.5km effort between Villié-Morgon and Bourg-en-Bresse. All the talk about psychological advantages scored and points made still needs to be put in context. For one, the parcours of this test more closely resembled the final Tour time trial rather than the first Tour test – this was one for the rouleurs and you get the feeling that the mountains of the Tour might have deadened a few legs before then. In addition, a 53.5km time trial at the end of the Tour is not at all the same as a test four days into the Dauphine.

Flat and windy, a rouleur’s circuit, it was always going to be the case that it suited Wiggins more than his rivals and he was gracious enough to admit it after the finish. “It was a great course for me, it’s what we’ve been training on for a while, it was perfect for me,” he said.

A time trial of over an hour requires power and concentration as well as bike handling skills in the crosswinds and Wiggins, apart from having the engine required to get the best from his 56×11 gear (nothing compared to Martin’s monster dinner plate 58×11) can also cope with the concentration required to judge pace and stay focused – even when his early time gaps were unfavourable. However, with 10 kilometres to go Wiggins had Evans in his sight on the long undulating straights, but still this didn’t faze him – “I knew I was up on him (Evans) after the second split, but up to that point I was in my own world, I was totally concentrated on my effort.”

Wiggins looked at home and relaxed on his time trial bike – something that only comes with hours of sitting in that uncomfortable position – and his trajectory through corners was smooth and unhurried, seconds better than the on-the-ragged-edge and distinctly uncomfortable also-rans. Time trials are never just about horsepower.

The other angle, easy to overlook in the excitement of the stage win, is that the teams want to test their communication set up, the relay of time gaps between rivals on the road – those logistics need a run out in the heat of real battle. Three weeks before the Tour, teams want to shake down all the materials and skinsuits (alas, poor Sky…) rather than wait till the day of the first long time trial in the Tour to discover that there’s a real problem with the steering geometry of the new time-trial frame or the chamois is wrong or that the stitching rubs the riders red raw.

But this is a big psychological boost for Wiggins and the Sky team. No doubt about it. Apart from Wiggins, three-time time-trial World champion Michael Rogers was in third and Chris Froome was in sixth. With Kanstantin Siutsou 16th, Edvald Boasson-Hagen 17th and Richie Porte in 30th, it showed that, should things get complicated in the Alps, Sky had the manpower to get the job done. The 2012 Dauphine was Sky’s to lose and they had three cards to play.

And the Tour? And Evans? Wiggins knows. “Cadel is Cadel, he’s got another level, he wasn’t at 100 per cent here (at the Dauphiné) last year but at the Tour we all saw what he could do. The Tour is different and we’ll concentrate on the Dauphiné for now.” So far, so good. Unless you were Andy Schleck, in which case it was going to be hard to divine anything good from crashing, puncturing and finishing 164th at 10-47. Unless it was to reflect that things could only get better at the Tour…

Follow us on Twitter: www.twitter.com/cyclesportmag
www.twitter.com/kenbobpryde