By Austin Murphy
July 09, 2012
Bradley Wiggins took a commanding hold of the Tour de France with his 35 second victory in the stage 9 time trial.
Stephane Mahe/Reuters

Something had to give, right? Bradley Wiggins had devoted so much time to improving his climbing coming into this season that it was possible his time trialing might suffer. Or at least it might not have improved from a year ago.

Well, never mind. Here's the lesson of the 2012 cycling season: when you are Wiggins and when you've won three major stage races coming into the Tour de France, nothing has to give. During 51 minutes and 24 seconds during Monday's stage nine over the course of a lumpy, bumpy, 41.5-kilometer time trial into Besancon, the 32-year-old leader of Team Sky laid waste to the field a full minute and 43 seconds ahead of defending Tour champion Cadel Evans, who barely clings to second place overall. No less surprising than Wiggins' monstrous effort was the performance of his wingman, Christopher Froome, who finished second on the day and now finds himself just 14 seconds behind Evans.

His ginger sideburns protruding from under the straps of his aerodynamic helmet, Wiggins put a half-minute into Evans before he reached the bottom of the starting ramp in Arc-et-Senans. Well, maybe it only seemed that way. What we do know is that Wiggins was feeling no ill effects from his hard rides in the two previous mid-mountain stages.

"I felt great today," he told Eurosport after the stage. "From the minute I turned the first pedal stroke in the warmup, I knew I was on a good one."

Before he'd hit the first time check, a third of the way into the course, the Tour's computers were telling the talking heads that Evans had already hemorrhaged 40-plus seconds to the yellow jersey. "It does sometimes happen that the GPS gets it wrong," cautioned Eurosport's David Harmon.

It's never a good sign when you lose so much time, so fast, that the play-by-play guys assume that the clock is broken.

At the next time check, the defending champ was down 64 seconds to Wiggins -- the equivalent of trailing one's opponent 28-0 midway through the second quarter.

Evans' hopes of defeating Wiggins had been predicated on staying roughly even with him in the time trials, then finding a way to drop the Brit in the mountains. Through a pair of mid-mountain stages -- 7 and 8 -- Evans drew no blood. Coughing up nearly two minutes to him in the first long time trial (there's another time trial, ten kilometers longer, on the penultimate day of the race), is not a disappointment for the Aussie. It's a catastrophe.

In its third year of existence, the British-based Team Sky is more than living up to the hype it has generated, as one of the bigger budget teams on the UCI Pro Tour. Indeed, the business-like and relentless fashion in which Sky has controlled this race recalls the U.S. Postal Service squad during the reign of Lance Armstrong.

Which is not to say Wiggins is a cyborg. Asked at a press conference following Stage 8 to respond to Twitterverse speculation that Sky's dominance must be pharmacologically enhanced, he, well, wigged out.

"I say they're just f------ wankers," Wiggins said. "It justifies their own bone idleness because they can't imagine applying themselves to do anything in their lives.

"It's easy for them to sit under a pseudonym on Twitter and write that sort of shit, rather than get off their own arses in their own lives and apply themselves and work hard at something and achieve something. And that's ultimately what counts." He closed with a particularly vile obscenity, then walked out of the press conference.

Wiggins can be thin-skinned and prickly, but he's also bright and funny. Mostly, he's disciplined. To read his book, In Pursuit of Glory, is to meet a bloke who has long been outspoken against the dopers in his sport, and who has learned over the years there is no substitute for hard work. When Wiggins has applied himself to an event in the velo-universe, he has mastered it. In the velodrome, he's won six Olympic medals, three of them gold. He's won world championships in three different track events. Coming into this season, he decided to stay out of the velodrome in order to focus on road racing, and we're seeing the results.

Halfway through Monday's time trial, Evans appeared to have limited his losses, his deficit holding steady around 75 seconds. Eurosport's Sean Kelly wondered if Wiggins had deliberately taken his foot off the accelerator -- perhaps at the orders of his director. Taking too large a lead over the rest of the field, still two weeks from Paris, wasn't necessarily the best play, Kelly speculated. It would make the race that much harder to control for Team Sky.

But Wiggins soon sped into Besancon, so fluid and metronomic on his time trial bike that he somehow managed to make his garish kit -- yellow skinsuit, black shoes, black socks pulled well up the shins -- look fast. Getting off the bike, he nearly collapsed. This was not a rider who'd taken his foot off the gas.

With his margin of victory, Wiggins took the Tour by the throat today -- to the extent that such a thing is possible nine days into a three-week race -- and its significance tended to eclipse several other superb performances. Bummed out though as they were by the Cadel's bad day, BMC brass had to be thrilled by Tejay van Garderen. The 23-year-old from Bozeman, Mont. finished in fourth place -- 11 seconds behind Cancellara and 66 ticks adrift of Wiggins, reclaiming the maillot blanc awarded to the Tour's Best Young Rider.

More surprising was Froome, a mountain goat whose role at this race is to help Wiggins in the Alps and Pyrenees. But his talent keeps intruding on the script. The Kenyan-born British citizen won Saturday's seventh stage, counter-attacking Evans at the summit of La Planche des Belles Filles. It turns out he can do more than climb. His second-place finish today -- 35 seconds slower than Wiggins, but 22 seconds faster than the four-time world champion, Cancellara -- suggest that Team Sky could very well have two men on the podium in Paris.

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