The 2012 Tour De France is just over the halfway stage, with 11 out of the 20 stages now completed, two Brits, Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome find themselves at the head of the field. Having never had a British winner of Cycling’s greatest race, it seems the wait might well be over.
Wiggins, the triple Olympic track cycling champion is only riding in his 6th Tour De France, and has only completed the race three times before. His best result previously was in 2009 when he came 4th, and he was well positioned last year before he crashed early on and broke his collarbone.
Wiggins did arrive at this year’s Tour as deserved favourite after winning the Paris-Nice, Tour de Romandie and Criterium du Dauphine all this year. In doing so he became the first man to win all three tours in the same year. He is now as short as 1/5 in the betting to land a Tour De France victory that would see him etch his name well and truly into the record books.
The other Pre-race contenders were last year’s champion Cadel Evans, Vincenzo Nibali and Dennis Menchov, but nothing had been mentioned of his team Sky team-mate Chris Froome, who has been side by side with his team captain Wiggins all the way so far.
The early stages of the tour were once again, dominated by the sprinters, with the first 6 days being won by the three main contenders for the green sprinters jersey. British sprinter Mark Cavendish, who won the green jersey 12 months ago, looked a little lost without his famous sprint train after moving teams over the winter.
Although he won stage 2, his two main rivals, Peter Sagan and Andre Greipel won the other 5 between them. With only two more realistic chances for the sprinters to win a stage, it seems that Cavendish will not retain his green jersey, and will most likely drop out before Paris in order to concentrate on the Olympic road race, which starts just a week after the Tour finishes.
Swiss time-trial world champion Fabian Cancellara held the Yellow jersey for the first 8 stages, after he won the traditional prologue, held this year in Belgium. Wiggins and team Sky were happy to bide their time over the flat plains of northern France, and as soon as they entered the Alps, they took control. Stage 7, with its mountain top finish marked the perfect point for Wiggins and his team, and they duly obliged.
With Chris Froome there to support him, Wiggins was able to beat Cancellara by a considerable distance to take the yellow jersey. It wasn’t until stage 9 that Wiggins was able to lay down a marker, and that he did. He obliterated the field in the 41.5km time-trial with only teammate Chris Froome able to get near him. More importantly he beat rivals Evans, Nibali and Menchov by over a minute to extend his overall lead to nearly two minutes.
Yesterday’s 11th stage, saw Wiggins take another massive leap to securing the tour, as his main rival Evans was not able to cope on the final climb of the day and lost another minute to Wiggins. This allowed Chris Froome to take second place in the overall standing, British cycling must be pinching themselves at seeing Wiggins and Froome at the head of the field!
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If Wiggins is to make it to Paris next Sunday still in possession of the famous “Maillot Jaune”, then he will have to get through the Pyrenees and the numerous attacks, which will be launched by his rivals. Stage 16 and 17 are the most vital stages for Wiggins, as they are perfect for the likes of Nibali and Evans to launch attacks. For Wiggins the key is not to panic, as there is still one more time-trial on the penultimate day of the tour for him to regain time if needs to.
Judging by his strength so far in the mountains, Wiggins shouldn’t struggle, and he should justify his current very short odds in the Tour de France betting and remain in the yellow jersey all the way to Paris. Sunday 22nd July on the Champs Elysees should mark a special day for British cycling, and there may even be two Brits on the podium.