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Team Sky man not feeling the pressure of favouritism
Team Sky's Bradley Wiggins was in a relaxed mood when Cyclingnews caught up with him yesterday at his training base for the crucial final few days before the 2012 Tour de France. The 32-year-old is currently on the Spanish island of Mallorca with his family as he puts the finishing touches to a training regime that, 12 months in the making, is wholly dedicated to performing up to standard at cycling's most famous race.
That standard has risen in recent months. Wiggins has enjoyed an unprecedented run of success in 2012 thus far, becoming the first man to win Paris-Nice, the Tour de Romandie and the Criterium du Dauphine in the same season. That form has catapulted Wiggins to the top of the oddsmakers' lists for the Tour de France, which starts on June 30, where he will attempt to end a 109-year drought for British riders and thus become the first Briton to win the event.
Wiggins insisted, however, that the tag of favourite isn't a burden - it's simply shows how well he and and his team have been performing over the last few months.
"I’m not really feeling any pressure," he said. "I’m in this position now because I’ve done well and that’s a nice thing to be able to say. I remember going into the 2010 Tour answering all the usual questions and knowing that I wasn’t in any sort of form – that’s a different type of pressure.
"I now realise what it takes to compete and to train hard week in, week out. I also have the maturity to be able to lead races and not have it take so much out of you that you need two months off after a big success. The confidence from winning those races has also helped build the momentum.
"But the plan has always been to be good in July. It was never a plan to peak for those races, form-wise, but we won them and we continue to look forward and continue to build towards July. It was great to win those races but ultimately it’s about what we’re working towards in these next couple of weeks."
He also stated that he has paid little attention to the Tour's parcours, has not been heavily involved in Sky's selection process for their Tour squad and has been extra mindful of ignoring issues that are out of his control. It is this single-mindedness, aided by the organisation and machinations of Team Sky, that have helped the mental aspect of his preparations.
"We’ve looked at a couple of the Tour stages," he said. "I’ve ridden the time trials and looked at a couple of the climbs too. Funnily enough, my son wanted a magazine on the flight over here and he decided to buy the official Tour Guide so I had a look at some of the stages in there. It was the first time that I’d seen them all back-to-back.
"It’s my way of not looking too far ahead. I’ve recce’d some of the key climbs but I couldn’t tell you what stages they were. I try to take things day by day and it’s a little bit like a jigsaw that fits together gradually, piece by piece. My only priority at this stage is getting ready for Liege and that prologue and starting with a bang.
"I haven't had much input into the squad we take. We have a selection panel who are in charge of picking the team and they’re looking constantly at everyone’s data – who’s doing what, how they’re performing, where they’re at. I have 100% faith in that selection panel to pick the right team and put the right people around us.
"I don’t worry about the little distractions. There are people who are paid to worry about those things. It’s not part of my job. That’s the great thing about this team – everyone has got their roles and everyone fulfils those roles very well. I don’t have to worry about who’s going to be in the Tour team in March or April. I just have to concentrate on myself, get the results and they’ll come up with the strategy."
Even the withdrawal of Andy Schleck from the Tour - who alongside Wiggins and BMC's defending champion Cadel Evans was seen as a big challenger for yellow - hasn't fazed him. When asked if he was worried that Schleck's absence would mean less time at the front of the peloton for his RadioShack-Nissan teammates and therefore added pressure on Sky and BMC to dictate matters, Wiggins was unperturbed.
"It was certainly the case at the Dauphine, when it became apparent on stage one that we would have to take the responsibility alongside BMC," he said. "But we'll just have to wait and see how things pan out in the race. It will all play itself out in France."
And what of the decision to spend these final crucial days in Majorca?
"I went home for a few days after the Dauphine but the weather in Britain was horrendous," he said. "And the plan was always to come here and get back into the mountains. When you finish the Dauphine there’s three weeks until the start of the Tour and then another week until you start the mountains in the Tour. That’s a long time to be without the mountains, so the plan was always to come here and get some work in. Training in the heat also means that I don’t have to do it in my garden shed. Here everything is designed to make it all the more comfortable going into the final days."
The final days ahead of a race that just might change his life forever.