Bradley Wiggins is on the brink of becoming Britain’s first ever winner of the Tour de France after a solid display on the last mountain stage of this year’s race yesterday.
The 32-year-old Londoner crossed the line in third place following the 143-kilometre stage from Bagnères de Luchon to Peyragudes and he admitted his thoughts have now turned to Paris on Sunday.
Wiggins was second in the Tour’s prologue almost three weeks ago and has remained in the top two of the general classification since, taking the maillot jaune on stage seven and wearing it for a 10th day yesterday.
A formidable showing saw him remain two minutes and five seconds ahead of Team Sky colleague and fellow Briton Chris Froome, whose primary role is to support his compatriot, in second and move 18 seconds further ahead of Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale).
With third-placed Nibali, who finished the day 2mins 41secs behind with three days’ racing left, falling behind as the Britons rode over the Col du Peyresourde en route to the summit at Peyragudes, Wiggins allowed himself to be distracted by thoughts of victory.
The triple Olympic champion said: “At that point, the first time in this whole Tour since I’ve led, I thought ‘maybe I’ve just won the Tour’.
“That moment I went over with Chris, all the fight went out of the window, everything to do with the performance. And that’s when it starts getting hard because you lose concentration. It was an incredible feeling.”
Froome, who finished one place ahead of Wiggins in second in last year’s Vuelta a Espana, has proved his climbing ability and once again yesterday, his presence helped Wiggins consolidate his hold on the yellow jersey, though some believe Froome could have won the Tour himself.
Froome was seen imploring Wiggins to stay with him in the finale to Peyragudes and the Tour leader is pleased the 27-year-old is on his side.
Wiggins added: “He has been absolutely solid the whole Tour. If he was in an opposing team, you’d constantly have that battle. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work out you’d rather have him in your camp than someone else’s. He’s an incredible climber.”
As Spaniard Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) won the stage, soloing to victory, Froome finished second and an emotional Wiggins on his wheel was third, with all other opposition trailing in their wake.
Today’s 222.5km 18th stage from Blagnac to Brive-la-Gaillarde, is relatively flat and could end in a sprint finish. Tomorrow’s 53.5km time-trial and is likely to be the final opportunity for time changes, but the discipline is Wiggins’ strongest pursuit.
For the Irish yesterday there were mixed emotions. Dan Martin (Garmin-Sharp) and Nicolas Roche (Ag2R La Mondiale) again turned in terrific displays and stayed with a splintered bunch right to the final climb before they lost just over a minute each. The day was tinged with disappointment for Roche as he lost ground on the rider in 10th place, Thibaut Pinot (FDJ-Big Mat). Roche started the day just four seconds off 10th but drifted to 1’12” after losing ground inside the final seven kilometres of the category one finishing climb.
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