Thursday's sixth stage of the Tour de France takes the riders into Spain, with the start town of Gerona familiar to a large contingent of riders in the peloton. Lance Armstrong lived there towards the end of his seven-year winning run, and Garmin-Slipstream is based there, with most of the team's riders living there.
They include Britain's Bradley Wiggins, who has set the bar high at this Tour. After placing third in Saturday's opening time trial he had hoped to take the yellow jersey after Tuesday's team time trial, but, reduced to five men after just 11 kilometres, with only four of them able to contribute, he and Garmin-Slipstream had to be content with second to Astana.
The disappointment was still evident as Wiggins spoke after Wednesday's stage to Perpignan. "I feel alright, but it was a hard day yesterday," said Wiggins of the team time trial. Finishing just 18 seconds behind Astana was considered by many to be an outstanding performance, but Wiggins was having none of that. "We still lost," he said.
"I didn't really think we'd win it," he continued, "but I was hoping for yellow. But they were better than us on the day. We couldn't have gone any faster."
Wiggins would have taken yellow had he made the 27-man split that went clear in the crosswinds towards the end of Monday's stage, nicking 41 seconds. Wiggins, who sits in sixth place, at 38 seconds, said that Wednesday's fifth stage, with even stronger crosswinds, was predictably nervous, though there was to be no repeat of Monday's great escape.
"Every day is bloody hard," he said. "Today we had to concentrate all day, and tomorrow will be the same. It was really nervous; there were a few moments when it did split, but there are so many different levels at this Tour: there are 100 blokes who are good and 100 blokes who are not so good, and it's all mixed up. As soon as there was any dangerous looking split it was so hard, because everyone's trying to be at front."
The climbs, said Wiggins, are likely to present a similar scenario. But the rider who is better known as a triple Olympic gold medallist on the track is hoping to enter uncharted territory, climbing among the leaders, and gunning for a high overall position. "If we could just start at the bottom at one-minute intervals it would be fantastic," he said. "But half the battle is starting the climb at the front. It's a race in itself to be there.
"Physically I'm in the shape of my life," continued Wiggins, who has lost around 7kg since last year. "I'm going much better than I was in Beijing [where he won golds in the individual and team pursuits, despite being struck with a virus on the eve of the Games]. I was in pretty bad shape there, really.
"I think top 15 is possible, even top 10 - who knows?"
Friday's first summit finish will provide an indication, he added. "It's going to be a tough one. I think the shit's going to go down with Astana. I think Contador is going to rip it to bits, to be honest. After that first mountain stage it might settle down a bit and follow more of a pattern."
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.
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