After mounting speculation as to who was the strongest rider in the Sky team, Bradley Wiggins provided his answer by defeating Chris Froome by 1:16 in the penultimate day time trial of the Tour de France from Bonneval to Chartres.
Froome had consistently appeared more at ease than Wiggins in the high mountains of the Tour, and had been forced to slow and wait for the yellow jersey on the summit finishes at La Toussuire and Peyragudes.
As the last major rendezvous of the race got underway on Saturday with the final overall standings already effectively decided, the only question that remained was whether Froome would take some of the lustre of his master's Tour win by bettering him in his fiefdom of the time trial.
While Wiggins would insist after the stage that he and Froome were always in harmony, he will doubtless have been pleased to have reaffirmed his leadership of both the Tour and the Sky team by winning the final 53.5km test.
"It was a nice way for Bradley to demonstrate that he's the strongest rider in the race," Sky team principal Dave Brailsford said as he stood by the finish line in Chartres. "A lot of questions had been asked about whether he was the strongest rider in this race and I think that when you can ride 52k in the time that he's just done, it puts everything to bed as far as I'm concerned. It was a majestic performance to cap off a majestic race by a majestic rider."
Wiggins was already 12 seconds up on Froome after 14 kilometres of racing, and he would go on to outpace his teammate at a rate of over one second per kilometre. Luis Leon Sanchez (Rabobank) was the only other rider to finish within two minutes of Wiggins over the pan-flat course.
"I always thought this last time trial would be the defining ride. This was made for him, wasn't it," Brailsford said. "Nobody was going to beat him here."
Before this year, Wiggins had only once finished in the top 5 of a Tour de France time trial that exceeded 20 kilometres in length, when he finished 4th at Albi in 2007. However, Wiggins completes this Tour having won both of its lengthy time trials by notable margins, with his Sky teammate Froome placing second on each occasion.
Brailsford insisted that from the birth of his team in 2010 he had always believed that his Sky team could deliver on its stated aim to provide a British Tour de France winner within five years.
"I thought we could win it when I first said we could win it in 2010," he said. "As far as I was concerned we were always capable of winning. It was a question of whether we could execute it and deliver a performance."
Wiggins now leads Froome by 3:21 ahead of the final stage to Paris on Sunday, with Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale) a distant third, 6:19 back. No other rider has finished within ten minutes of Wiggins overall. Marginal gains, it seems, have added up to make a considerable difference.
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