It was a crushing victory by Team Sky in Monday’s individual time trial but to exclude Cadel Evans from a repeat victory is to forget about his heroics of yesteryear, writes Anthony Tan from Besançon.
Everyone’s fallible – I’m not a machine, by any means. I’m only human, at the end of the day.“Tomorrow is the race of truth and the truth will be told,” Sean Yates, Team Sky sport director, said after the eighth stage to Porrentruy, in anticipation of Monday’s 41.5 kilometre individual time trial from Arc-et-Senans to Besançon.
Truth be told, Bradley Wiggins and Christopher Froome were a crater-sized cut above the rest, and deserve the numerous accolades received today from all and sundry.
It was a masterful performance that, had one been closely following Team Sky since its inception was not unsurprising, even if by day’s end, the gaps were wider than most anticipated. “We’ve trained to be consistent, we’ve trained to back up really hard days, (like) the last couple of days and today,” said Wiggins, who now holds a 1 minute, 53 second lead over defending champion Cadel Evans, and 2:07 on his lanky sidekick Froome.
Wiggins said the plan was not to win the stage. It was more about gaining time on his GC rivals in a discipline that, aside from Fabian Cancellara and Tony Martin, he has almost no peer. But in being so good at it, so prepared for it, and so primed for the effort that lasted 51 minutes and 24 seconds for an average speed of 48.4 km/h, the only logical conclusion was that he would win the stage and gain time on his rivals.
Now, if we extrapolate what happened today and said the relative gaps would be the same in the final time trial over 53.5km, we might as well hand Wiggins the final maillot jaune now and the Crédit Lyonnais lion to boot.
Thankfully, though, stage racing, and in particular racing a Grand Tour with the intent to win, is not so straightforward and logical. “It’s never over (till the end). You could walk out of here and get run over by a bus… you don’t know,” Wiggins said.
“Everyone’s fallible – I’m not a machine, by any means. I’m only human, at the end of the day. And there’s always a possibility of a bad day or getting sick or something.”
Indeed, there are so many variations of what could happen in the next 11 days it would be folly to think Wiggins has it in the bag – even with a lead as sizeable as the one he currently enjoys and arguably the strongest team in the Tour with which to defend it.
Quite simply, it is impossible to plan for every permutation no matter how hard one may try. Although it does seem likely Team Sky is prepared to sacrifice Froome so that Wiggins can succeed. “Our goal is still to have the jersey in Paris. That means not jeopardising Bradley’s GC position. We’re going to try and do that in the best way possible,” Yates said, following Monday’s stage.
It is also difficult to know what Cadel and BMC Racing might do from here.
Wiggins is certain about one thing: “This race is far from over and Cadel, I’ve said it so many times now, he’s an absolute fighter, and he’s not going to give up till we get to Paris. It’s never over (till the end)… Today’s just one day of many and there’s a lot more to come.”
Interestingly, in a time trial 12km longer at the recent Critérium du Dauphiné, Evans lost by the same margin to Wiggins as he did today; 1 minute, 43 seconds. Historically he gets better as the race goes on but Cadel will not just need to be better, but a lot better – demonstrating as much last year when, compared to exact same time TT at the Dauphiné, he went 1:07 faster at the Tour.
Evans will also have to attack, or at least try to attack, Wiggins & Co. in the ensuing mountain stages. Because to not do so and instead rely on he growing stronger at the expense of the Brit and his lads faltering in the final week would be wishful thinking.
"We’ll re-assess the situation day-by-day and of course we don’t give up, that’s for sure,” Evans said after finishing sixth on the ninth stage, not giving away anything yet (though perhaps because they had yet to form a race plan based on having two challengers in the top three from the same team).
Added BMC team manager, John Lelangue: “Two minutes, two weeks – we (still) have time.”
Right now, however, it is Wiggins’ race to lose. Provided he doesn’t get steamrolled by a bus or encounter serious misfortune on the bike, a defensive strategy is all that is needed from Team Sky.
But while others may have given up the ghost Cadel and his troops are readying themselves to deploy Operation Kitchen Sink, at a time that suits them. “There’s still a lot more racing to go before Paris,” Evans said.