Bradley Wiggins (Sky) has credited his disappointing 2010 Tour de France for sparking the current run of form that has marked him out as one of the principal favourites for overall honours in Paris this July.
The Englishman cemented that status on Sunday when he secured his second consecutive overall victory at the Critérium du Dauphiné, a success which follows on from victories at Paris-Nice and the Tour de Romandie earlier in the season.
“The reason I’m in this position now is because I had a horrendous Tour in 2010, or at least way below expectations,” Wiggins said in Chatel. “It sort of felt humiliating. At the end of the year, I thought ‘right, you can’t go on like this. You’ve got the engine, you’ve got the motor.’ That was when [coach] Tim [Kerrison] came in and Shane [Sutton] and they started looking after my programme.”
Wiggins proceeded to enjoy significant improvement in his second campaign for Sky in 2011, but that progress briefly threatened to unravel when his Tour challenge was ended by a broken collarbone at the end of the opening week. Instead, Wiggins dusted himself down and re-emerged with some strong displays in the season’s final weeks.
“That was a massive kick for me, because it led me on to the Vuelta and the world championships and meant I started the winter fitter,” Wiggins said. “I was chasing something that I had perhaps lost last July and now here we are one year on…”
Wiggins’ Dauphiné triumph was his third stage race victory of 2012, and each win will have provided his Sky team with a useful work-out in the complicated art of defending an overall lead.
“We’ve had a few goes at it now and I think we’re getting better at it if anything,” Wiggins said. “It’s certainly getting easier each time – not in terms of the effort but in terms of staying cool at the right moment and knowing what to do and when to do it.”
Indeed, the ominous strength of his Sky team has gained many of the plaudits this week – as well as shutting down the race on the Col de Joux-Plane, the men in black placed four riders in the top ten overall. Incidentally, the Wiggins-Michael Rogers one-two was a feat last achieved by the US Postal squad in 2002, when Lance Armstrong finished ahead of Floyd Landis.
Allied to the strength of his team, Wiggins has himself appeared to relax into his leadership role over the course of his time at Sky. “I’ve come a long way in the three years since Sky was formed, as a person as well. I’m more confident in doing this [talking to the press] – I still don’t like it – but I’m more comfortable with doing it now,” said Wiggins, who admitted that he was in the form of his life as July approaches.
“This is probably the best shape I’ve ever been in to try and win the Tour. It’s not going to be easy; it’s probably going to be the hardest thing I’ve ever done. But then if the Tour was easy, everybody would do it.”
Wiggins’ co-existence with Mark Cavendish is sure to generate plenty of column inches ahead of the announcement of Sky’s final selection for the Tour de France. He was reluctant to discuss how much of the team’s resources would be devoted to aiding Cavendish in July.
“The team will go with the strategy that they see fit,” Wiggins said. “In the next few weeks, they’ll get together and decide what strategy we’re going to go with for the Tour de France. At this point in time, I couldn’t tell you anything as I’d only be speculating really.”
Wiggins remains in France for two further days to reconnoitre some Tour finishes, as well as course of the opening long time trial at Bescancon. His pre-Tour preparation will also include a week’s training in Mallorca ("because it's a bit warmer than Manchester"), and he will forgo his defence of his national road race title.
Before he signed off, Wiggins asked the press room who had been the last man to win Paris-Nice and the Dauphiné in the same season. “I was just thinking about that during the stage today actually,” he admitted.
The answer was Eddy Merckx in 1971: the history buff Wiggins certainly doesn’t need to be told that the Belgian also went on to add the Tour de France that year for good measure.