Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Briton set to make history in Tour

Wiggins romps in critical time trial

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CHARTRES, France -- For Bradley Wiggins, the Champagne on the Champs-Elysees is about to flow.

He all but locked up Tour de France victory with a tour de force in winning the final time trial, putting him on the cusp of becoming the first Briton to win cycling's showpiece race.

Wiggins blew away the field in Saturday's race against the clock in Stage 19, his second stage victory in a time trial, his specialty.

"I really wanted to go out there and finish with a bang, and fortunately I was able to do that," said Wiggins, who noted the breadth of emotion for his historic achievement when he spotted his mechanic in tears.

Even before the Tour, Wiggins was the favourite. But in the yellow jersey since Stage 7, he had to handle questions about the unity of his Sky Team, pre-race preparations, and ability to get up mountains -- all of which he put to rest.

There was also the absence of two-time Tour champion and cycling superstar Alberto Contador, who's serving out a doping ban, that led many to question whether Wiggins was really the sport's best.

Wiggins has been vocal in his criticism of doping in cycling and said the sport may be changing after tough new controls put in place by the sport's governing body, the UCI, in recent years to battle drugs cheats.

"I think the Tour is a lot more human now with everything the UCI is doing," he said, suggesting that dopers -- and their intermittently incredible performances -- are being rinsed from the peloton.

The three-time Olympic track champion made the tricky transition to road racing, and said he was driven to win this Tour after crashing out a year ago with a broken collarbone. He envied Australia's Cadel Evans, who had the elation of winning the 2011 race.

"That was my motivation: 'I want to feel what's he's feeling,"' Wiggins recalled.

The Team Sky leader obliterated the pack in the 53.5-kilometre ride from Bonneval to Chartres and punched the air and shouted as he crossed the finish line.

Again this year, Sunday's ride to the finish on Paris's Champs-Elysees will be largely ceremonial -- his three-minute lead was too large for any competitor to erase over the 120 kilometres from Rambouillet. And besides, second-placed was teammate and countryman Christopher Froome.

Wiggins sighed and looked skyward as he hoisted the winner's bouquet.

"I have a lot of emotion right now," he said. "It's the stuff of dreams to win the final time trial and seal the Tour."

Wiggins was timed in 1 hour, 4 minutes, 13 seconds. Froome was second, 1:16 behind. Luis Leon Sanchez of Spain was third, 1:50 back. Overall, Wiggins has a 3:21 lead over Froome. Italy's Vincenzo Nibali was third, 6:19 back.

Riders set off one by one in the race against the clock in reverse order of the standings, and Wiggins' dominance was evident from the first time check. He was 12 seconds ahead of Froome after 13 kilometres.

Wiggins had a formidable lead coming into the stage. His only threat of any kind was from Froome, a successful time-trial rider, and less so from Nibali, who's not quite as strong in this discipline.

Despite rumblings about behind-the-scenes competition between them, Froome proved a faithful teammate to the end.

"As we saw today, he's stronger than me," Froome told French TV, after hugging Wiggins. "I'm very happy. The (Sky) goal this year was to win the Tour with Bradley. To be second (for me) is an added plus."

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 22, 2012 B13

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