Tour de France leader Bradley Wiggins (Sky) is focussed on the day ahead in the final mountain stage.
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Sky dominance continues in final mountain stage
Paris is visible from the summit of the final climb of the Tour de France, so the old adage goes, and Bradley Wiggins (Sky) all but sealed the yellow jersey when he reached Peyragudes with no more mountains left to climb and his commanding overall lead still intact at the end of stage 17.
In truth, the suspense had long since been squeezed out of this Tour by the calculated efforts of a Sky team that stuck diligently to its playbook throughout. The only late excitement would come from observing the relative strength of Wiggins and his dauphin Chris Froome on the final kick to the line.
Once again, Froome was demonstrably stronger when the road reared upwards but once again, he dutifully lowered the pace every time he began to drift clear of his leader. On three occasions in the finale, Froome had to slow and wait for Wiggins as the persistence of his forcing proved too much for his leader.
Startlingly, their dominance was such that Froome's throttled back efforts were still enough to distance the likes of Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale) and Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Lotto Belisol) by the finish, as the Sky duo came home second and third behind stage winner Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), who had escaped early in the day.
"We were talking about the time gap to Valverde because Chris really wanted to win the stage today," Wiggins said afterwards, when asked what words were exchanged when Froome turned repeatedly to look for him in the closing kilometres.
The final climb to Peyragudes saw the leaders climb most of the way up the Peyresourde before a short descent led to the final drag to the finish, and it was at this point that Wiggins began to realise that the Tour was all but decided.
"The moment we went over the Peyresourde, I allowed myself to drift and it was the first time I thought maybe I've won the Tour," he said. "All the way up that last climb my concentration had gone and everything about performance had gone. Chris was egging me on to take more time and I was just in my own world really."
Already apparent at La Toussuire, Froome's supremacy in the mountains was confirmed by the facility with which he pedalled on the final climb, riding almost within himself to allow Wiggins to stay on level pegging. It could have been a very different Tour had the pair been on opposing teams.
"He's just one less thing to worry about," Wiggins admitted. "If he was on an opposing team, you'd just constantly have that battle all the time. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to work out you'd rather have him in your camp than someone else's. He's an incredible climber."
"No-one's actually praised me yet"
Wiggins was bemused when asked what place his Tour win would occupy in his history given the absence of Alberto Contador and Andy Schleck, and the doping cases involving Rémi Di Grégorio and Fränk Schleck.
"It doesn't matter to me personally, that's for other people to decide," he said. "My name will always be on the list, that's all that matters really. You can only beat who turns up at the end of the day.
"I don't think all the people who came from the UK to stand on these climbs for the past three weeks give a monkey's about that."
Perhaps bristling from the implication that his was a Tour won 'à la Walko', Wiggins returned to the question at the end of his press conference, bemoaning what he perceives what as the negativity that has surrounded his spell in the yellow jersey.
Be it due to the stifling strength of his Sky team, the restrictions placed on Froome by team orders or the coverage that greeted his reaction to doping suspicions aired on Twitter, Wiggins appeared to feel that he has yet to be given his due for (all but) completing the task in hand.
"No-one's actually praised me yet and said, ‘You know what, you've been there since the Tour of Algarve in February, winning races. You went to Paris-Nice. You've respected every race you've gone to. You've raced, you've trained, you've answered all the questions all year,'" he said. "I haven't dropped out of the first two of the GC for three weeks now.
"And no-one's actually said, ‘you know what Brad, good on you mate, you've answered all these doping questions as articulately as you can.' No-one's actually patted me on the back yet, it's all in a negative sense.
"All year, it's been ‘have you peaked too early, Brad, have you peaked too early?' and even now, you know, nobody's actually said, ‘You know what Brad, good on you mate, bloody well done.'"
Perhaps in time.
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