Can Sky be stopped at this year’s Tour?

Cycling News HD analysis at halfway

Popular opinion is already handing the 2012 Tour de France title to Bradley Wiggins, and after his display in back in stage 9’s 41.5km time trial it is easy to see why.

All of his rivals would have expected to ship time to the British specialist on this course, but for the nearest of them (with the exception of his team-mate Chris Froome) to lose 1:43 is nothing short of staggering. But the race isn’t over yet, and it is not just the possibility of an unfortunate accident that stands between Wiggins and glory in Paris.

Carrying the fight

One thing is for certain now, no one can afford to ride conservatively and hope for Wiggins to crack. It isn’t going to happen. Stages 7 and 8 exposed Sky’s expected tactic for the mountain stages… work all day to keep things together and set the pace on the climbs. It worked, but those stages were medium mountain stages and even they took their toll as Wiggins and Froome were left with only each other for company by the time Evans attempted to distance them on stage 8. They were able to keep him under control that time, but Evans, Vincenzo Nibali and the other pretenders must attempt to isolate Wiggins and Froome again and again in the Alps and Pyrénées.

Nibali and Evans have another weapon in their armoury, in that both are highly skilled descenders. Wiggins is no slouch himself, and it is only the fact that Nibali stands pretty much peerless among those in the peloton who can also arrive at the top of the mountain at the front that gives him an advantage. He has indicated, not least with a little tester on stage 8 and a bigger one on stage 10, that he recognises the opportunity his downhill skills present him, so expect some technical and long descents to be tackled full throttle. How Wiggins and Froome cope with that pressure will play a role in deciding the outcome of this Tour.

There is even talk that Nibali and Evans could collaborate against Wiggins. While a direct alliance is highly unlikely, it is in both men’s interest to use their strong BMC and Liquigas teams to take the race to Sky, and if they can isolate Wiggins perhaps attack him together. But Nibali needs to put time into Evans as well as Wiggins if he wants to emerge from the Tour’s second TT in yellow, so there is unlikely to be too much entente cordial.

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