2012 Tour de France - A Weeklong Wiggins Coronation
Roadcycling.com's Tour de France analysis continues. We can now officially begin the countdown to the 2013 Tour de France.
This was the last weekend of the 2012 Tour de France and we all knew what was going to happen by Sunday - England would have its first Tour de France champion.
Stage 19's time trial result could almost be seen as a forgone conclusion. It was a flat 53 kilometer route that was tailor made for Team Sky's Bradley Wiggins. His only rival was going to be his teammate Chris Froome.
Rabobank's Luis Leon Sanchez was in the "hot seat" for most of the day - but he must have known that he was only warming up the chair for Froome.
Sure enough Froome was 34 seconds faster than Sanchez. That was quickly eclipsed by Wiggins who crushed the course stopping the clock at one hour, four minutes and 13 seconds - one minute, 16 seconds faster than the man in second place: Froome. Wiggins' domination of the final time trial proved that he was indeed the strongest rider in the Tour de France peloton and a worthy Tour winner.
With such a commanding win in the race against the clock and the 2012 London Olympics just a little over a week away, Wiggins became a five star favorite to win Olympic time trial gold. Also, Mark Cavendish's win the day before had also put him on the short list of potential winners in the Olympic road race. How incredible would it be for England if they both earned gold in these events? Will England see a resurgence in road cycling like it did in America with Lance Armstrong's seven Tour wins? I have a gut feeling that Wiggins' legacy will shine brighter than Armstrong's. No matter how the USADA investigation turns out, in my opinion there will always be question marks behind his wins.
On the other end of the scale was BMC Racing Team's Cadel Evans. He had another bad day on the bike. His American teammate Tejay van Garderen passed him in the time trial, which only solidified the American's fifth place overall on the general classification as well as increased his lead in the white jersey young rider classification. It must have been some embarrassment for the defending Tour de France champion.
With the time trial in the books the race for the Tour's general classification was over. Wiggins could finally wrap his head around the fact that he was going to win the 99th Tour de France.
The 20th and final stage of the Tour de France is mostly a winners' procession until the peloton pulls onto the Champs-Élysées, then it's game on!
On the first lap BMC Racing's George Hincapie was waved to the front of the peloton as a nice sign of respect from his cycling peers, acknowledging that this was Hincapie's 17th and final Tour de France. Catching a ride in Big George's draft was RadioShack-Nissan's Chris Horner. Perhaps he was trying to catch the ear of Hincapie so he could put in a good word for him to BMC's management team. "Hey George, can you tell Och I'm available next year?" So far I haven't heard why he jumped on Hincapie's wheel.
The stage offered the usual no-hope attacks that were caught on the last lap round the Champs-Élysées. Also expected was Mark Cavendish looking to make this his fourth straight win on the most beautiful boulevard in the world.
Coming around the final corner Cav was in the second position behind his teammate Edvald Boasson Hagen. It was at this point that everyone knew this was going to be Cavendish's third stage win of the 2012 Tour. He swung out from Boasson Hagen's draft and no one could come by. Sure, Peter Sagan was gaining quickly, but came up short.
Wiggins made history in this Tour de France. He became the first British rider to win the Tour. His time trialing and ability to stay with the best climbers in the world, coupled with Team Sky's strength, made him unbeatable. If Wiggins had won the prologue instead of Cancellara I believe they would have had the strength to hold onto the yellow jersey for the entire duration of the Tour.
So where was the Tour won? As the INRNG blog pointed out it wasn't in the time trials. Sure Wiggins dominated the race against the clock, but if you strip away the results from those stages as Inrng did, Wiggins was still the winner.
The domination started with stage 7 where Wiggins took the yellow jersey. Team Sky ground down the competition pedal stroke after pedal stroke. It was boring but effective. And that was the theme through the entire Tour.
What happened to the other yellow jersey contender? Stage 12 was where you saw the cracks forming with Cadel Evans. He was dropped on the Glandon, fought his way back, only to be dropped on the summit of the La Toussuire. The final time trial was the other nail in the coffin for the Australian. That said, I still believe that Cadel has another year to win the Tour de France. To do that Team BMC Racing needs to bolster the squad with riders that can stick with him in the mountains. There were times in this Tour where Wiggins had three to four teammates and Cadel only had white jersey winner Tejay van Garderen as company.
Interestingly stage 12 also showed that Froome was the better climber. However, a quick radio message from the Sky car and Froome slowed for his team leader as he rode away. Evans was again dropped during stage 16 - but by now he was no longer a contender and wasn't a candidate for the final Tour de France podium in Paris.
As I mentioned earlier, this wasn't an exciting edition of the Tour de France. We only had one change in leadership. By the last week we knew any excitement would only come if his teammate Froome suddenly disobeyed orders and attacked - something that would never happen. But think if it had!
The other factor that made this edition boring was the parcours. It was designed for a time trialist that could also climb. Wiggins showed in stage 7 that he was one of the top climbers and in the time trial he had no equal.
While the course for the 2013 Tour de France hasn't been made public yet, I can already predict excitement. Alberto Contador returns from his suspension and he'll be looking for revenge. Contador's style of climbing is explosive in contrast to Wiggins who sets a steady tempo - rarely rising from the saddle to accelerate. The battle next year will be between these two.
Of course there are others to challenge for the yellow jersey. Van Garderen must be given some opportunity to shine at BMC and he could be part of a one-two punch next year with Cadel. Andy Schleck returns to the Tour de France - maybe? Honestly I have no idea what is going on with the Schlecks. Big brother Frank is facing a suspension and Andy's current team is a managerial mess with accusations of late paychecks and a director facing a lifetime ban from the sport. Don't forget Jurgen Van Den Broeck of Lotto-Belisol. He'll be a year older and wiser. The 100th year anniversary of the Tour de France is shaping up to be a classic. Now all we have to do is wait a year.
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