Bradley Wiggins moved a step closer to a second successive Critérium du Dauphiné victory at Morzine on Saturday as his Sky team controlled affairs all the way up the Col de Joux-Plane. In an impressive show of collective strength, Wiggins had no fewer than three Sky teammates with him in the yellow jersey group at the summit of the day’s final climb – Chris Froome, Richie Porte and Michael Rogers.
Given its proximity to the Tour de France, it is always tempting to read the tea leaves of the Dauphiné in search of portents for July, but Wiggins played a resolutely straight bat when it was put to him afterwards that his Sky team was sending out a powerful message to their rivals ahead of La Grande Boucle.
“It’s never about messages as much as people would love it to be,” Wiggins said. “We’re just trying to do a job and we’re doing it as efficiently and as professionally as possible. We’ve trained hard as a team. Each individual has worked as hard as I have and we’re getting the job done using our strengths. We haven’t got the arrogance to go about sending out messages.”
With one day to go, Wiggins holds a healthy 1:20 lead over his teammate Rogers, with Cadel Evans (BMC) a further 16 seconds behind in third. Such has been the firmness of Sky’s policing on the Dauphiné’s climbs that comparisons have been drawn between their tactics and those of Lance Armstrong and his former US Postal team. Given that his formative years coincided neatly with the reign of Miguel Indurain, however, Wiggins preferred to name check the Spaniard’s Banesto squad.
“It’s very similar and obviously for anyone who can remember, Banesto used to do a similar thing. A lot of people haven’t been in cycling for that long so they won’t remember them,” Wiggins said pointedly. “That was how they raced. You race to your strengths, as efficiently as possible and one day at a time. That’s what we’re doing. It works and we’re not going to change it.”
While Wiggins enjoyed another day in yellow, some of his Tour de France rivals suffered setbacks to their preparation for July. Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale) was dropped on the Joux-Plane and lost 9 minutes, while Denis Menchov (Katusha) was even further back at 13 minutes.
There was worse news for the unfortunate Andy Schleck (RadioShack-Nissan), who was forced out of the race early on Saturday, still suffering the effects of his crash during the stage 4 time trial. The Luxembourger returned home immediately amid concerns that the injury to his right side may be more serious than first anticipated.
Wiggins was reluctant to discuss their travails, however, reiterating that he was only concerned with his own performance. “I can’t worry or think about what others are doing,” he said. “The minute you do that, you lose focus on yourself and it’s a distraction. The Tour could be completely different.”
Cadel Evans remains the man to beat in July, of course, and the Australian was again prominent on the road to Morzine as he clipped off the front of yellow jersey group just as the descent of the Joux-Plane began. It was the second successive day that the Tour champion had attacked on a downhill section, and while Wiggins and Sky were more undoubtedly more prepared for such a move on Saturday, he elected not to take any risks on the plunge into Morzine. Evans crossed the line in second place on the stage behind Nairo Quintana (Movistar), while Wiggins came home a further 8 seconds back.
“Sean [Yates] was on the radio and said you’ve got enough time, you don’t need to take any risks on the descent,” Wiggins said. “We were willing to give him 15-20 seconds. It would have been different if he’d attacked on the climb, but on the descent, so close to the finish and with one day to go, it wasn’t worth putting everything on the line.”
Wiggins may insist that he is not interested in scoring psychological points ahead of the Tour, but he is still wise to the signals emitted by Evans over the course of the past week, and beyond.
“He never gives up, Cadel, he always fights to the line,” Wiggins said. “Regardless of his condition – and he’s good here – you saw last year that he never gave up fighting at the Tour de France. You can never discount or underestimate him, and that’s what makes him a real champion.”