Sunday, 17 February 2013

Sporting Picks of 2012, Part 3; July 21st

Tour De France: - Stage 20
Nibali followed by Froom & Wiggins during Stage 17

Bradley Wiggins is poised to become the first Briton to win the Tour de France after victory in Saturday's time trial.  Only an accident, stopping Wiggins, 32, from finishing Sunday's final stage in Paris, will prevent him from winning.  He now leads Chris Froome by three minutes, 21 seconds after beating his Team Sky team-mate in the 53.5km race. 

"Today was a superb performance," said Wiggins. "I really wanted to get out there and finish with a bang. Fortunately I managed to do that."  He added: "It's the stuff of dreams to win the final time-trial and seal the Tour.”

In among the hype surrounding the BBC’s Sports Personality… programme little was made of the small cheat the BBC employed to award the “Team of The Year” award to the whole of the British Olympic team.  The award should have gone to the outstanding British sports team of the past couple of years – The BSkyB sponsored British Cycling team headed by David Brailsford.  Their most spectacular feat was turning Track cyclist (and Olympic champion at the Individual Pursuit at Athens 2004) Bradley Wiggins into a Tour de France winner.

That probably sounds unfair on Wiggins, he did become the first British sportsperson to win three Olympic medals at a single games since 1964 at those games.  It’s just that the transition from track to road racing had proved too much for others, notably Chris Boardman.  For Wiggins though, it would be a different story as he worked hard and made a breakthrough of sorts in 2009 by finishing fourth, equalling the record finish by a Brit.  2012 though was his best chance for glory at Le Tour, Contador was serving a ban, while Andy Schleck dropped out because of injury.

Wiggins still had to contend with the defending champion Cadel Evans, Andy’s brother Frank Schleck, Vincenzo Nibali and surprise package from the 2011 Vuelita de Espania, teammate Chris Froome.  However when he pitched up in Liege for the prologue time trial at the end of June, Wiggins was clear favourite.  Wiggins showed patience in waiting to take Yellow, when he did – on Stage 7 at La Planche des Belles Filles – it was on the first key mountain stage.  So why have I picked the penultimate stage?

In truth, Wiggins was a comfortable winner but did not really cement his win until the penultimate stage, where he more than doubled his lead over second placed Froome and firmly put third placed Nibali out of the frame.  Wiggins had successfully kept Nibali at bay on the 17th stage at Peyraguides buy finishing ahead of him and just behind team mate Froome. The individual time trial from Bonneval to Chartres saw Wiggins extend that lead over his nearest challengers and effectively win the tour by putting himself out of the reach of Nibali & Froome.

Of course, the story for Wiggins doesn’t end there.  After cementing his place in the pantheon of British sport, Wiggins rang the bell at the start of the opening ceremony of the London Olympics.  Wiggins also added to his Olympic haul by becoming the Olympic champion at the Time –trial, overcoming the disappointment of his team mate Mark Cavendish’s fruitless attempt to win the Road Race.

The Tour of 2012 could be seen as the high water mark of British Cycling.  Brailsford, Wiggins & co will be working towards ensuring that the successes of 2012 continues and is built upon in the same way that the successes of the track cycling team from Beijing in 2008 were built upon.