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Wiggins employs fighting mentality on pavé

Team Sky was one of the teams fancied to make gains on the cobbles, and the British squad lived up to their billing by being one of the more prominent outfits, with Steve Cummings in the early break and another of their trio of British riders making the decisive split.

But the rider in the lead group was not the one many had tipped to be there. While Bradley Wiggins was delayed by Saxo Bank's co-leader Fränk Schleck's crash, another Sky rider, Geraint Thomas, sneaked into the six-man group that fought out the stage.

The Welshman capped an outstanding performance by finishing second to Thor Hushovd (Cervélo Test Team), while Wiggins completed a solid day for the team by placing eighth, 53 seconds down.

Thomas, who ousted Tony Martin (HTC-Columbia) from the white jersey, admitted afterwards that he might not have been there to challenge for the stage win had he followed his instincts to go back and help Wiggins.

"I was in two minds about it," he said. "I wondered if I should go back and help him but Sean [Yates, the team's directeur sportif] said I should stay in there."

The 24-year old also revealed that he was the last man to make the escape, which formed in the chaos after Schleck's crash.

"We hit section four of the cobblestones [at Sars-et-Rosieres] pretty fast and there was a big fight to get in there," said Thomas. "I was around tenth or so, and that's when the big crash happened. I managed to get through it quite well, and closed he gap.

"The others had a bit of a gap in front of me, but I gritted my teeth and got on. Then we were straight into the next section so it was quite a while before I could sit back, relax and see what was going on."

Thomas has experience on the pavé, having won the junior Paris-Roubaix in 2004. "Yeah, but it's a bit different with the big boys," he said. "Having the national champion's jersey on my back, and being in the front group with the world champion, Fabian Cancellara [Saxo Bank] and Thor was amazing.

"It was a massive buzz going across the cobbles with those guys - you don't get a better group than that. It was a nice day and the jersey's a bonus, but I'm here for Brad."

Wiggins praised Thomas's ride - saying, "he's showing the talent we always knew he had" - and expressed satisfaction with his own performance.

The Sky leader's analysis of the stage was straightforward: "It was carnage but we knew it was going to be carnage, we've known for seven months it would be carnage - and it was carnage."

"It was a good day today," added Wiggins. "I felt good, and I responded well after my crash yesterday. I knew this morning that it would be those who went out there with a fighting mentality who'd come out the other side.

"It was Fränk's crash that caused the initial split - a lot got held up by that. I wasn't positioned the best there, but I just tried to squeeze through."

Wiggins's fortunes then yo-yoed as the group in front, containing overall contenders Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank) and Cadel Evans (BMC), pulled clear, while Lance Armstrong (RadioShack), who had also been in front, punctured, and eventually conceded more than a minute to the Englishman.

With Wiggins in the second group was defending champion Alberto Contador (Astana). "We were all just pulling through," said Wiggins, "trying to gain as much time on Lance and the others who were out the back."

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Richard Moore is a freelance journalist and author. His first book, In Search of Robert Millar (HarperSport), won Best Biography at the 2008 British Sports Book Awards. His second book, Heroes, Villains & Velodromes (HarperSport), was long-listed for the 2008 William Hill Sports Book of the Year.

He writes on sport, specialising in cycling, and is a regular contributor to Cyclingnews, the Guardian, skyports.com, the Scotsman and Procycling magazine.

He is also a former racing cyclist who represented Scotland at the 1998 Commonwealth Games and Great Britain at the 1998 Tour de Langkawi

His next book, Slaying the Badger: LeMond, Hinault and the Greatest Ever Tour de France, will be published by Yellow Jersey in May 2011.

Another book, Sky’s the Limit: British Cycling’s Quest to Conquer the Tour de France, will also be published by HarperSport in June 2011.