Too much too soon? Not at all, says Anthony Tan, believing Bradley Wiggins to be very much the leader among men for July.
7 Apr 2015 - 11:32 PM  UPDATED 13 Apr 2015 - 3:37 PM

Too much too soon for Wiggins. The pressure of being the no. 1 favourite at the Tour will crack him eventually.

I found it rather perplexing that the first three reader comments under Monday's lead story on Cycling Central, 'Wiggins firms as Tour de France favourite', essentially dismissed Bradley Wiggins as the man to beat come July. As my sometimes friend, sometimes Bike Shorts sparring partner, Mike Tomalaris, sagely observed in Sunday's TV show: "Wiggo looks as good as Cadel did this time last year… Is that a fair call?"

Fair indeed, Don Tominator, for in 2011, as Evans won Tirreno-Adriatico, followed by the Tour de Romandie, most of you, including myself, said: 'This is Cadel's year, this will be the year he wins the Tour'.

Yet in 2012, as Wiggins won Paris-Nice in March, followed by Romandie last Sunday, courtesy of a superlative performance in a challenging 16.5 kilometre time test (where he calmly recovered from dropped chain incident at the beginning of the climb of Crans Montana), you seem to be saying, 'Wiggins is peaking too soon; I'm not convinced'.

What gives?

The fact is, just as Evans enjoyed last year en route to overall victory in Le Tour, Wiggins experienced the perfect off-season, which, believe it or not, is where a season can make you or break you. (Just ask Simon Gerrans, who told me after winning the Tour Down Under: "I've never trained so hard in the off-season to be in the shape I'm in now.")

As early as February 13, before he had won anything – in fact, before he had even pinned on a race number – he wrote in his blog in The Guardian: "In cycling terms it's not long until the Tour and the most important part of the preparation is over: I've done the hard work, stayed healthy. It's just a matter of taking my training head off and racing now."

"All the evidence suggests I'm way ahead of last year in my fitness – the numbers I'm producing, the work I've been doing, the tests I've had – and you start to think 'I was third in the Paris-Nice with what I had last year and now I'm ahead'. You can't help wondering what you can do."

Six days after posting this entry, he would win the final time trial at the five-day Volta ao Algarve in Spain, where he helped teammate Richie Porte (who, after a lacklustre year at Saxo Bank, also is back to his best) to victory and did enough to finish third overall himself.

One month later, he would win another last-day time trial – after leading the race for the previous six days and having made the crucial 30-man break on Day 2 – to clinch overall victory in Paris-Nice. "If I'm capable of winning it, I'm capable of winning the Tour de France. I've now won the two biggest stage races in France. There is no longer any question of my fourth place in the Tour in 2009 being a fluke," he wrote in his March 12 post in The Guardian.

Wiggins also said he would "try to take my foot off the gas, probably playing a team role, riding on the front of the bunch, working for whoever needs it among the team" at the Tour of Catalunya from March 19-25, which, sure enough, he did. In fact, abominable conditions saw Wiggins and Porte err of the side of caution there, exiting stage right out of Spain after three days.

Entering last week's Tour de Romandie, a race I covered a number of times in the field in the mid-2000s when I based my butt en Suisse, Team Sky declared they had come to win – even before a pedal was turned. It sounded like big-noting braggadocio but they duly did as they said, as well as taking home half of the six stages on offer.

You can just imagine the scene inside the team bus following Wiggins' time trial. A lot of backslapping, a few ales downed, and 32-year-old Brad, who has a knack for impersonations, invoking Matt Damon's character in the 1997 film, Good Will Hunting.

How d'ya like dem apples!

"We've had a flawless performance on the bike. People don't see it but it's becoming a well-oiled machine both on the road and off the road. That's very pleasing and people are really starting to establish themselves in their roles," Dave Brailsford, Team Sky's principal, said.

"The other key thing was that there was a lot of discussion pre-race about Bradley and Mark [Cavendish] riding together. Obviously that has been a positive and I think when you see Mark riding on the front up a second category climb it tells you more than any words can."

After Paris-Nice, responding to innuendo he had timed his run too soon, Wiggins fired off a rebuttal: "I don't believe any of that stuff about peaking too early. I went into Paris-Nice with the form I had. We had a plan, I'm not ahead of it, but there are still some areas to work on. My trainers have pushed me hard all winter with a view to peaking for July and I think I'm at about 95 per cent of my potential now. The rest will come from the work I do between now and July."

His uninterrupted off-season preparation, away from the glare of the media, combined with carefully timed breaks between races, has allowed him to maintain the form he's had. And if one considers the way Wiggins assiduously approached his goal-setting and goal-getting throughout his track career, few, if any, know how to time their run better than he. Meanwhile, Evans needs to make further inroads if he's to hit tip-top shape by the Tour. "Unfortunately, things haven't been going so well for me this year for reasons a little bit beyond my control," he said after an uncharacteristic 40th place in the time trial (1:45 down on Wiggins) at Romandie, which left him 29th overall (2:07 down).

The only detritus of doubt I have with Wiggins is his ability to handle the pressure of outright leadership over three weeks – that is, be the leader of the team from the lead-up, to the get-go, to the finish line.

It was not the case at the 2009 Tour when he finished fourth, and last year at the Vuelta a España we saw him falter in the final week, albeit a result of coming back from a broken collarbone at the Tour, where he then made way for teammate Christopher Froome and eventual winner Juanjo Cobo. "I think in terms of pressure I've got to grips with that now," he said on Sunday.

Nonetheless, for Evans, the brothers Schleck, Vincenzo Nibali et al, their race and training plans from here on in have become that little bit more important, because right now, Wiggins is the leader among the Men for July.