Bradley Wiggins confirmed his superiority at the Tour de France with a coruscating time trial victory in Chartres
Words by Edward Pickering in Chartres
Saturday July 21, 2012
A British winner of the Tour de France will be crowned on the Champs Elysées tomorrow. Bradley Wiggins was imperious in the final time trial of the race, winning with relentless, cultured ease over the windswept cornfields of the Beauce plains south of Chartres. The Sky rider confirmed his superiority in class, strength and fitness over the rest of the field, beating compatriot, team-mate and runner-up Chris Froome by over a minute.
Wiggins looked liberated. All through the Tour, throughout the whole year, in fact, he has played down the final goal in favour of sticking to Sky’s mantra: take it one day at a time. Now there remains only one more day before Wiggins becomes the 60th man and the first Brit to win the world’s biggest bike race. Today there was no holding back, no strategising. This was Bradley Wiggins expressing himself as a bike rider, his perfect style belying the speed and effort.
Just two days ago, and also in the Alps, the debate raged over whether Froome should be allowed his head in the mountains. Many suggested that the wrong man was getting the support of the Sky team. Wiggins made those debates look like so much wasted bandwidth.
Chartres was a victory parade for Wiggins. He has won the Tour simply by not losing it. Never lower than second overall, he thrashed his rivals in the time trials, and was all but unbeatable in the mountains. There can be no arguing that the best man won today, and over the three weeks of the Tour.
The race leader had permitted himself a small smile as he crossed the line at Peyragudes on the final mountain of the race on Thursday. As he stood on the podium in Chartres, to be presented with the yellow jersey and his 13th Crédit Lyonnais lion, the grin broadened to a smile which should stay there all the way through to tomorrow, and around the Champs Elysées to the final podium.
Today’s time trial passed through the village of Illers-Comblay, south west of Chartres, which was the inspiration for Marcel Proust’s masterpiece, A La Recherche du temps perdu, the perfect location for a Tour time trial.
It was clear that the only suspense in today’s race would involve the margin of Wiggins’ victory, not the fact of it. Wiggins led from the first time check to the finish line, well ahead of Froome and earlier starter Luis Leon Sanchez, who has spent many stages of this Tour getting hunted down by Sky riders and must have thought that the British team are starting to pick on him. As Wiggins rode through the crowds to the podium, surrounded by a cordon of police officers with linked arms, Sanchez passed in the other direction, having spent a long afternoon in the leader’s holding pen.
The time trials were supposed to define the 2012 Tour, but in fact, very little changed over the course of the day. The hierarchy established by the mountains and the first time trial was maintained. By coming first and second, Wiggins and Froome elongated the time gaps between them and the rest of the field. Vincenzo Nibali and Jurgen Van den Broeck easily defended third and fourth, while Tejay Van Garderen kept fifth place, even passing his three-minute man, erstwhile team leader and defending champion Cadel Evans.
Also confirmed: the continuing gradual rise of the hopes of the home nation. Pierre Rolland didn’t have a good time trial, but he will finish the Tour in eighth overall, with a mountain stage win to his name. The youngest rider in the Tour, Thibaut Pinot, is going to be 10th overall, an achievement which ranks with any of the whole Tour.
Wiggins’ Tour win has been methodical, impressive and as dominant in its way as any in the race’s history. He may not have satisfied purist fans, who demanded more panache and attacking, but the point is this: the man in yellow on the Champs Elysées has won the argument.