Chilled Wiggins Fired Up for 2010 Tour de France
After his surprise fourth-place finish last year, Britain's Bradley Wiggins heads into this year's Tour de France as one of the favorites for the overall.
In 2007, when the Tour de France kicked off in London, Bradley Wiggins was tipped as a decent shot to take the opening time trial for the home nation before rapidly disappearing back into the peloton.
That modest target did not work out - he finished fourth in the prologue and his team withdrew midway through the Tour - but now, newly ensconced as the leader of Britain's new multimillion pound Team Sky, he goes into the new season with a fighting chance of winning the whole race.
Wiggins' transformation from triple Olympic track gold medalist and time-trial specialist to Tour de France contender came via his fourth-place overall finish last year, when he showed he could climb with the best and changed everyone's perception, not least his own.
"This time last year I didn't know whether I was coming or going in the sport but now I feel like a road rider," he told Reuters during Team Sky's glitzy London launch.
"People would have laughed if I said I'd come fourth in the Tour - they did laugh actually - but I know what I'm capable of now."
Wiggins, relaxed and seemingly unfazed by his new-found status as figurehead for Britain's first serious assault on the Tour for decades, is not one for platitudes.
Despite his deep cycling heritage - he was born in Belgium the son of a professional rider - he recognizes that, in Britain at least, success in the sport is still largely judged on what happens during three weeks in July.
"To be honest it is the only race that matters," he said. "You could win 100 races in a season and do nothing in the Tour... well, the other races are important and are important for the team but the Tour is what we are going to be judged on."
Wiggins, 29, stopped short of predicting victory but certainly does not dismiss the idea.
"If I'm ever going to win it, it will be with this team. We can match any other team that will be there and will go there in the best form of our lives," he said.
Led by Dave Brailsford, the detail-crazed architect of Britain's stunning Olympic and world championship track success, the new team will want for nothing in terms of preparation.
Wiggins said that for last year's Tour he did not train specifically in the mountains and paid the price on some stages with some ill-advised gear selections and strategies.
This time a GPS-wielding member of the Team Sky management has gone to Spain, where Wiggins is based, checking out all the local mountains to produce a planned training regime that will closely fit the 2010 Tour de France profile.
"I've noticed a big difference already in the way the little things are done and their professionalism, in a relaxed way, too," he said of his new team. "A lot of it is just common sense in looking after the riders but a lot of other teams lack it."
Brailsford broke the bank to prize Wiggins away from Garmin in a protracted "transfer" last month and said there is already a settled feel about the new set-up.
"It's a British team and Brad was an obvious leader but team spirit and the ability to bond is critical to us," Brailsford said.
"He said he feels he belongs here and we feel this is where he belongs too."
Brailsford was reluctant to predict instant Tour success, preferring to concentrate on achieving set targets that might or might not achieve the "ultimate dream."
However, one of his four directeur sportifs, the vastly experienced Sean Yates, was more bullish.
Yates, a Tour regular and stage winner in the 1980s, was alongside Lance Armstrong during his dominance and though he feels Alberto Contador is still ahead of the pack, he said much can change in a short time.
"Brad can do better than last year," he said. "He can deal with the pressure and the others are concerned about him. It's all up for grabs."