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British rider Bradley Wiggins (Garmin - Slipstream) gets home support at the start of the time-trial in Annecy.
Stage races and transparency the priorities for fourth placed rider
Britain’s Bradley Wiggins finished fourth in the Tour de France on Sunday in Paris, equalling compatriot Robert Millar’s achievement in the 1984 Tour. At the finish Wiggins said that he will now aim for stage race wins in the future, including the Tour podium in 2010.
"I’m relieved it’s all over," Wiggins said on the Champs Élysées. "This last week has been very long but I’m pleased it’s all done. Everyone laughed when I said I could go top twenty but these last three weeks have changed everything for me and I have to re-think the next few years."
Wiggins, who had built his reputation on the track - winning six Olympic medals, including three gold - came into the race with an un-tested pedigree for overall contention in a Grand Tour, despite showing flashes of promise at May's Giro d’Italia. "Realistically I think that I can come back next year and get on the podium. I’m not going to say I can win the Tour now, but to repeat this or podium would really be something. I’ve gone from being a mediocre rider to top four in the Tour."
Until the penultimate stage to Mont Ventoux Wiggins was within touching distance of Lance Armstrong’s third place. However he lost contact with the American less than three kilometres from the summit finish. "I wasn’t going to try and do something stupid and end up getting dropped and end up in seventh. I thought realistically I could hold fourth. I realised I wasn’t going to drop Lance [Armstrong] and I was starting to lose my legs a bit."
Fourth place may give Wiggins the confidence and mindset to return and take on Armstrong, Andy Schleck and Alberto Contador next season, but he ruled out a desire to focus solely on the Tour de France - something that Armstrong did during his seven year winning stretch. "Next year I’m going to concentrate more on the Tour but I don’t see why I couldn’t win something like the Vuelta a España and smaller races like Tirreno-Adriatico. This has opened up a whole new set of doors for me now."
Wiggins also praised the work of his Garmin-Sliptream team, with teammate David Millar saying that, "they were now one of the top three teams in the world." However, early in the race, Wiggins and his teammates had found themselves on the wrong side of a split in the peloton, caused by crosswinds on stage three. Wiggins, along with most of the overall contenders, lost forty seconds to Armstrong as a result of the incident. When asked if those forty seconds could have secured him a place on the podium, Wiggins said: "If you think like that you end up in a straight jacket. If I had forty seconds on Lance yesterday he would have attacked the hell out of me, and it would have changed the whole pattern of the race."
"We rode a near perfect race though. You look at a guy like Cadel [Evans] who was four minutes down after the first week, so we didn’t do to bad to be within five minutes of Contador in Paris. I’m not ashamed to admit that the three guys ahead of me were by far better bike riders than me. It’s no shame to be fourth."
Teams and transparency
In the coming days Wiggins and his Garmin-Slipstream team will also post their International Cycling Union (UCI) anti-doping test data online, something that their rider Christian Vande Velde did last year after he finished fifth. "That’s the next step and it will dismiss the doubts if people have them. Everyone knows where we stand as a team and that level of transparency is important. I have nothing to hide so why not put it out there? Christian did it last year. Maybe it’s the way forward in this sport."
Many have pointed to Wiggins’ drastic weight loss for his improvements but in a press conference on the second rest day he played down those suggestions, something he did again at the finish in Paris. Wiggins, who left the Columbia team at the end of 2008, explained that the surroundings within the Garmin camp had been a major factor in his Tour result. "There’s a reason I’m doing to well here and that’s because of the people around me. A lot of teams say that they’re a bit like a family but this one really is. A lot us live in Girona and there’s something quite special about it that I’ve not had in other teams."
This may finally squash any question of Wiggins moving to the new Sky HD squad after rumours circulated that he would ride for them in 2010. "Matt White is like an older brother and Jonathan Vaughters is a bit of a court jester, but at the same time he’s a good boss and someone you can really talk to. In other teams you can fear the boss and fear being open with him. So, across the board, it's been very relaxed but very professional in what we strive for, which is the whole anti-doping message and leading the way forward."