Such has been the dominance of Team Sky during the 2012 Tour de France that the race had been long since divested of all suspense long before Bradley Wiggins sealed the yellow jersey by winning the final long time trial in Chartres ahead of his teammate Chris Froome.
Throughout the past three weeks, Sky’s men in black have dictated both the pace at the front of the peloton and the narrative of the race itself, to such an extent that Wiggins’ win has at times seemed as much a collective triumph as an individual one.
Asked in his post-race press conference if he was concerned that his Tour win would be remembered as boring, however, Wiggins said that the manner of his victory was simply a product of its times and stressed his belief that the great individual feats of yore were simply no longer possible in the current climate.
“I think the Tour is a lot more human now,” Wiggins said. “If people want to see incredible 220km lone breaks in the mountains, well maybe that’s not realistic anymore, as wonderful and as magical as they were to watch. I remember in the 90s watching people like Virenque, but maybe the sport’s changed now.”
Sky’s cerebral but romance-free approach has hardly thrilled the neutral over the past three weeks, but Wiggins looked to place his win in the context of the ongoing fight against doping. “When we were riding on the front at 450 watts or whatever, someone would attack and Mick Rogers would say ‘just leave him, he can’t sustain it,’” Wiggins said.
“Someone is going to have to sustain 500 watts over 20 minutes of a climb to stay away which is not possible anymore unless you’ve got a couple of extra litres of blood. That’s the reality of it. It really is.
“It’s all these small little percentages that make the difference in sport. That’s our philosophy at Sky and at the start we got laughed at, small things like the warming down.”
In spite of the number crunching at the heart of Sky’s approach, however, Wiggins himself still has something of the romantic about him, as he showed when musing on the comparison between his win and those of Miguel Indurain, his childhood hero.
“He was quite emphatic in the way that he won some of them,” he recalled. “Particularly I remember Hautacam in 1994 when he had Leblanc on his wheel and La Plagne in 1995 when he chased down Zülle. People forget those things.”
Sky’s collective dominance has scarcely been interrupted for the duration of the Tour, and it was thus appropriate that the greatest threat to Wiggins’ own individual aspirations would come from within his own team.
Chris Froome appeared to be the stronger climber throughout the race, but he was forced to check his pace and wait for Wiggins on the summit finishes at La Toussuire and Peyragudes. The purported Sky leadership battle never manifested itself publicly, however, and after reasserting his hold on the yellow jersey by winning in Chartres, Wiggins insisted that behind the scenes there had been similar harmony in the camp.
“I think a lot of people would like there to be a story because ultimately there’s not a great deal to write about other than the racing at times,” Wiggins said. “The reality is that we had lunch together today before the time trial. There is no issue, there is no problem. Next year it could be Chris [who leads]. There wasn’t anything really.”
Wiggins’ victory comes after a high-profile switch to Sky ahead of the 2010 season and two hugely disappointing Tour outings since. The Englishman admitted that his recent travails had pushed him over the line this time around.
“I think you need those disappointments to make you stronger,” he said. “2010 was a disastrous Tour really in every way, in the way I handled myself and everything. It’s those things that make you or break you.
“Then crashing out last year, sitting at home watching Cadel in Grenoble win the Tour and seeing the sense of what he was going through, that was sort of my motivation. I wanted to feel what he was feeling.”