Saturday, July 21, 2012
Bradley Wiggins closing in on title
CHARTRES, France -- Bradley Wiggins all but sealed the Tour de France title Saturday, capturing the final time trial with a commanding show of authority.
The Team Sky leader obliterated the pack in the 33-mile ride from Bonneval to Chartres and punched the air as he crossed the Stage 19 finish line. He is set to become the first Briton to win cycling's most prestigious race when the three-week ride ends Sunday in Paris with a largely ceremonial ride onto the Champs-Elysees.
Bradley Wiggins of Great Britain is on the verge of winning the Tour de France.
Wiggins sighed and looked skyward as he hoisted the winner's bouquet.
"I have a lot of emotion right now," he said. "It's the stuff of dreams to win the final time-trial and seal the Tour."
Wiggins was timed in 1 hour, 4 minutes, 13 seconds, for his second stage win of this Tour and second in a time trial. Countryman and teammate Christopher Froome was second, 1:16 behind. Luis Leon Sanchez of Spain was third, 1:50 back. Overall, Wiggins has a 3:21 lead over Froome, who is second. Italy's Vincenzo Nibali is third, 6:19 back.
The mostly flat course passed fields of corn and wheat into Chartres, known for its towering cathedral with asymmetrical spires. The route presented few challenges other than the breeze.
Riders set off one-by-one in the race against the clock in reverse order of the standings, and Wiggins' dominance was evident from the first time check. He was 12 seconds ahead of Froome after 8½ miles.
Wiggins had a formidable lead coming into the stage. His only threat of any kind was from Froome, a successful time-trial rider, and less so from Nibali, who is not quite as strong in this discipline.
Despite rumblings about behind-the-scenes competition between them, Froome proved a faithful teammate to the end.
"As we saw today, he's stronger than me," Froome told French TV. "I'm very happy. The (Sky) goal this year was to win the Tour with Bradley. To be second (for me) is an added plus."
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The standings below them were the biggest question mark: Whether young American Tejay Van Garderen could overtake Jurgen Van Den Broeck for fourth -- he didn't -- or whether Frenchman Pierre Rolland, a strong climber but not a time-trialer, would stay in the top 10. He did.
The main change at the top concerned defending champion Cadel Evans of Australia. He was passed by BMC teammate Van Garderen despite a three-minute head start and fell one spot to seventh in the overall standings.
Wiggins has been the odds-on favorite to win after showing dazzling form with three stage-race victories this season. He was fourth in the 2009 Tour and 24th in 2010. He crashed out last year.
This Tour has been about as favorable as it comes for Wiggins: the three-time Olympic track champion is among the world's best time-trial riders. Mountains -- not his specialty -- carried relatively less importance this time. But he proved through two days in the Alps and two in the Pyrenees that he's among the best climbers, too.