Wiggins surprises many on the Tour climbs

Bradley Wiggins (Garmin - Slipstream) cracked the top 10, finishing 7th.

Bradley Wiggins (Garmin - Slipstream) cracked the top 10, finishing 7th. (Image credit: Sirotti)

For many, the revelation of the Tour's first stage in the mountains was Bradley Wiggins (Garmin-Slipstream). As he sat on the tailgate of a team car after the finish, Wiggins himself said he wasn't surprised to be climbing alongside the favourites for overall victory and even attacking 300m from the finish line of stage seven.

"I've been saying all along that I knew I had the physical capabilities to go well here," said Wiggins, who is fifth overall. "I proved in the prologue I had the climbing legs. I've ridden a near perfect race so far, except for that one day [stage three] when we got caught with our pants down.

"I felt great on the climb," he said. "I was trying not to get too excited because it is only the first day in the mountains, and I will get tired as race goes on. I didn't want to get carried away. But I said to Christian [Vande Velde, the Garmin-Slipstream leader] that I was still at his aid when he wanted me. It got hard toward the end but everyone was hurting.

"I'm really pleased," he added. "I've worked my arse off for this."

That can be taken literally, with Wiggins citing his weight loss - he is six kilograms lighter than when he last rode the Tour, in 2007 - as a major factor in his newfound climbing ability. "I've finally switched," he said, "from world class rider track rider to becoming a roadie.

"My goal was top twenty on GC," said Wiggins. "That remains the goal and Christian is still the leader. I've never been in this position. I think I can get through the Pyrenees in good condition, then it's the Alps. That's the big thing for me, to see how I get through the third week. I'm not saying 'I'm going to do this or that', but I'm in the form of my life, so I'll just keep plugging away."

As for Contador's attack, Wiggins said, "I think everyone had the fear of god when he went, because it's Alberto. Everyone went, [I] better not go with Alberto. And it was a headwind. Lance looked like he had good legs. He was blocking [for him]. Then the Schlecks had a go."

At the end, Wiggins had a go himself. "Yeah, just at the end," he said. "I didn't want to get swamped by the sprint, so at 300m, I thought I might as well start sprinting.

"I think I was pissing off some riders today," said Wiggins. "Fränk Schleck kept getting the hump with me, and Andy, because they've never seen me in that position before. They were thinking, 'will you just piss off and let us get on with our job?'"

The next two weeks could determine whether Wiggins can complete his transformation from Olympic gold medal winning track cyclist to Grand Tour contender, but, regardless of what happens, he has no regrets about switching his focus. "It's been a long process [to lose the weight he has] and I haven't had pressure to ride the track this year, so I haven't had that pressure to remain super powerful," said Wiggins.

"I've lost a bit of top end power, for sure, but that was the whole point of leaving the track behind and trying road. It's about time I got my arse in gear. I'm 29 now. I've been going at this for eight years now, and I've just played at the road. I've had some success, but I never really gave it a good shot. I've got a great team behind me this year and the confidence of Jonathan Vaughters, and good guys like Dave Millar, who's helped me a lot.

"Every day is super stressful," said Wiggins of his Tour de France experience. "You think you're the only one who's hurting, the only one who's suffering and wants to go home and see his wife, but you realise at some point that everyone is feeling the same. It's just a mental game to see who can suffer the longest."

Wiggins finished 12th on stage seven, with the same time as favourites like Andy Schleck, Cadel Evans, Carlos Sastre, Denis Menchov and Lance Armstrong.

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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.