After winning the Criterium du Dauphine on the weekend, Bradley Wiggins cemented his status as top favourite for the 2012 Tour de France. And according to Team Sky director sportif Sean Yates, Wiggins has yet to reach his peak.
The Brit has had a stellar season so far, racing infrequently but sustaining a high win ratio. He started out with a third place overall in the Volta ao Algarve in February, then won Paris-Nice in March, the Tour de Romandie in April and now the Criterium du Dauphine in June. No other rider has shown that consistency, although there are signs that defending Tour champion Cadel Evans will be in better shape in three weeks time when the Tour de France kicks off.
The Dauphine's final general classification was dominated by Team Sky: Wiggins led the way with Michael Rogers (2nd at 1'17) and Chris Froome (4th at 1'45) showing the squad's strength and depth. Only Evans (3rd at 1'26) was able to get into the mix thanks to his attacking in the mountains.
But Wiggins was never under serious threat: he was second in the prologue then took the yellow jersey a day later and did not relinquish it. His win in the stage 4 time trial, beating world champion Tony Martin, gave him a solid lead that he was able to capitalise on in the mountains, defending sensibly rather than risking it all for a bigger margin.
At the finish in Chatel, Wiggins said he has been spurred on by his defeat in the 2010 Tour de France.
“The reason I’m in this position now is because I had a horrendous Tour in 2010, or at least way below expectations,” Cyclingnews reported Wiggins as saying in Chatel. “It sort of felt humiliating. At the end of the year, I thought ‘right, you can’t go on like this. You’ve got the engine, you’ve got the motor.’ That was when [coach] Tim [Kerrison] came in and Shane [Sutton] and they started looking after my programme.”
He was in better shape come the 2011 Tour but frustratingly broke his collarbone in the first week. “That was a massive kick for me, because it led me on to the Vuelta and the world championships and meant I started the winter fitter,” Wiggins said. “I was chasing something that I had perhaps lost last July and now here we are one year on…”
Wiggins in the form of his life
Now, he knows he has what it takes: "This is probably the best shape I’ve ever been in to try and win the Tour. It’s not going to be easy; it’s probably going to be the hardest thing I’ve ever done. But then if the Tour was easy, everybody would do it.”
After winning all the lead up races, the question is whether he has peaked too soon. Something that Sky director sportif Sean Yates was quick to dismiss in this interview with Cyclingnews: "People don't understand that Bradley is a fantastic athlete and he's not reached his peak yet," said Yates. "He's not trained so hard that he's going to be exhausted. he's training normally but he's getting better and better. He's working towards getting fitter and stronger."
If that's the case, it's hard to see who can catch him come July.