Thursday, 19 July 2012

Bradley will make it.....

It is more or less certain now - barring an accident Bradley Wiggins will become the first Englishman to win The Tour de France this coming Sunday in Paris. I was thinking of making the trip over there, to witness it all first hand, soak up the atmosphere, get close to the action..... then I noticed the prices for getting to Paris on Sunday have trebled at least - and anyway, cycling is a sport that works much better on TV.

But what of Chris Froome - he's playing second fiddle to Brad for now but his future ambitions must be to be the leading man. There was the much discussed incident on the climb to La Toussuire last Thursday, when he seemed to prove himself a stronger climber than Bradley until he heeded his sporting director's instruction to slow down, he is, of course, riding to orders to help ensure that his team leader becomes the first British rider to win the Tour. It seems a certainty that Froome will win the Tour one day - and it would be nice to think that if he does, Wiggins will be there helping and supporting him all the way.

Froome is a steely rider "I like to fight alone," he said, referring to his fondness for the solitary effort of time trialling and for the pleasure of riding in the mountains – the two disciplines in which he excels. Even more significant may have been his description of the decision to live in Italy when he was racing for the Barloworld team, to make it easier for his girlfriend to travel to her job in Milan. After they broke up, he told himself: "Now the only thing I'm going to think about is my career as a rider." Team Sky's strategy this month, which has roots going back four years, is to maximise Wiggins's talents and minimise his weaknesses in order to put him on the top step of the podium in Paris next Sunday. It did not work in 2010, Sky's debut season, when his form and the team's naivety combined to destroy the hopes that had been raised by his fourth-place finish for the Garmin team the previous year, and 12 months later an early crash removed him from contention.

This year the 32-year-old triple Olympic champion has a handpicked squad, only slightly compromised by the need to give Mark Cavendish, the team's big winter signing, the chance to mount a token defence of the green jersey while wearing the world champion's rainbow stripes and to attempt a fifth consecutive win on the Champs-Elysées next Sunday. But the wild card, as it turns out, is Froome, who signed for the team in 2010 but is only now making his first appearance in the Tour for the team, having made his debut with Barloworld in 2008.

Although planned down to the minutest detail, what the team's strategy for this year's race cannot account for is the sort of unexpected change that so often happens in the Tour. In a three-week stage race a rider's form, no matter how carefully monitored in the months before the Tour, can suddenly hit a wall. There is also the possibility that the kind of incident that took Wiggins out of the race 12 months ago could repeat itself. Or stages requiring different gifts can expose inherent failings. Wiggins is currently 2min 5sec ahead of Froome, who sits just behind him in the general classification, and the Sky leader can expect to take a further two minutes out of his principal rivals – Cadel Evans and Vincenzo Nibali – in Saturday's penultimate stage, a 53.5km time trial in which the final order will be determined before the ceremonial procession into Paris.

Now that the final mountain stages of the High Pyrenees are out of the way Cadel Evans has waved the Tour goodbye and Nibali has lost further time - it's all over bar the time trial.

For the moment Sky are perfectly placed with their leader and his first lieutenant at the top of the standings heading into the last few days. And orders are orders. But watch out next year - I expect Froome to be demanding a chance of the glory.

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