Bradley Wiggins virtually secured his maiden Tour de France victory after winning the penultimate stage time trial of the race on Saturday.
“I wanted to go out and finish with a bang,” said Wiggins, who clocked a winning time of 1:04:13 for the 53.5 km course. “You couldn’t write a better script really.”
Wiggins, who took nearly two minutes from defending champion Cadel Evans (BMC) when he won the stage nine time-trial over 41.5km, went into the 53.5km race against the clock with a 2min 05sec lead over Sky team-mate Chris Froome. And after a smooth, controlled ride over a course lined with hundreds of British flags emblazoned with good luck messages, the 32-year-old Englishman increased his advantage on the Kenyan-born Briton. Sky teammate Froome, who finished second on the first time trial at 35 seconds behind Wiggins, this time finished second at 1:16. After weeks of speculation on a supposed internal leadership battle between the pair, Froome was quick to have played his role in Wiggins’ historic achievement.
“I’m very happy. Our objective was to come here and win the Tour with Bradley, and that’s what we have done,” said Froome, who outshone Wiggins on several of the race’s tough climbs. For me to come second is a big bonus.”
It means Wiggins will go into Sunday’s final stage to Paris, which usually does not host a battle for the yellow jersey, with an overall lead of 3:21 on Froome, who has over a three-minute lead on third placed Italian Vincenzo Nibali. Barring catastrophe, the Belgian-born Londoner will become Britain’s first yellow jersey champion.
“I don’t know what to say. Only one more day to go, and I’ve won the yellow jersey,” said an emotional Wiggins. “I’ve a lot of emotions and a lot of relief it’s finished. It’s a dream come true, but I’ve been working to win this for the past five years. The job is done, almost.”
Sky team manager Dave Brailsford said: “We made it our objective to win this race within five years with a clean, British rider, and that’s what we’ve done. It might be a surprise to everyone else, but it’s not a surprise to us.”
Nibali of Liquigas finished 16th at 3:38 and now sits 6:19 behind Wiggins. He is certain to finish third in Paris as Jurgen Van den Broeck of Belgium dropped to 10:15 in fourth. Defending champion Cadel Evans, meanwhile, had another day to forget. He started the day in sixth place overall at nearly 10 minutes behind Wiggins and finished 52nd at 5:54 to drop one place to seventh overall at 15:51 behind the leader.
Having been upstaged by his younger American team-mate Tejay Van Garderen in the mountains, Evans suffered the humiliation of being overtaken by ‘TVG’ on the stage despite starting three minutes earlier. Evans, admitting he has had an “off year”, added: “I came in with really high expectations and as the race went on my chances lessened and lessened, and I had to adjust to that.
“By the time today came I was just hoping to hold my place on GC (general classification). “But I started the day empty, I started a few days here now empty, and I was riding within my limits in that regard.”
Van Garderen is set to finish fifth overall at 11:04 behind Wiggins and has virtually secured the white jersey for the race’s best-placed rider aged 25 and under. Compared to last year, when he erased his two previous runner-up finishes with a maiden win for Australia, Evans could not feel any more different.
“I couldn’t think of a more enormous contrast. Last year was a lifetime dream come true,” he added. “There’s no comparison at all.”