Can Bradley Wiggins threaten Armstrong, Contador and Schleck in the 2010 Tour de France?
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Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Can Wiggins threaten Armstrong, Contador and Schleck in 2010?

by Steve Jones at 7:22 AM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Tour de France
 

With defending champion Alberto Contador favored to secure his third Tour de France crown, the charge from former teammate Lance Armstrong, who in the second year of his comeback to the sport has vowed to return stronger, is sure to be a spectacle as he rides determined to secure his eighth overall victory in the race. The pair have won nine Tours de France between them, and in July will have one eye trained on 2009's second place finisher Andy Schleck, as he looks to rise to the top step of the podium for the first time.

Yesterday, the new British Team Sky had their official team presentation in London, with a squad that they feel can deliver their man Bradley Wiggins to another high placing in the Tour de France.

Wiggins equalled the best ever Tour finish for a British rider when he placed fourth overall in the race last year, motivating Team Sky Principal David Brailsford to sign him to the first year team despite the remaining year on his Garmin-Transistions contract. The ambition of the team is to win the Tour de France within five years with a British rider, and Wiggins, with his performance last year, has shown he is currently the best candidate.

Yesterday at the launch Team Sky announced that they had secured the services of Ben Swift. The 22-year-old was under contract with the Russian Katusha team for 2010, and like Wiggins, left it would appear, without good feelings on the other end of the deal. There has been much criticism of Brailsford's behind the scenes tug-of-war with contracted riders, but the Team Sky principal told Sky News he was unaware of Swift's contract situation when he began talking to the rider. Still, Katusha boss Andrei Tchmil showed his distaste for the situation several times throughout the ordeal. The danger for the team now is that the heated negotiations in the off-season will translate to problems on the road throughout the year.

Team Sky sports director Sean Yates thinks we haven't seen the best out of Wiggins yet, telling the Guardian, "He can do better [than last year]."

With a 15-year career as a professional cyclist that includes stage wins in the Vuelta a España and Tour de France, as well as director positions under two of the sport's best tacticians in Bjarne Riis (Saxo Bank) and Johan Bruyneel (Team RadioShack), Yates has a wealth of experience when it comes to bike racing.

At 29 years of age, Wiggins is at what many believe is the prime age to mature as a Grand Tour rider, which would certainly support Yates' claims. His chief rival, Alberto Contador, is 27-years-old and has shown no signs of slowing down as he approaches his prime. The two-time Tour winner even managed to knock time trial World Champion Fabian Cancellara off his perch in last year's Tour, proving he has yet to reach his potential. Likewise, Luxemburger Andy Schleck, who at 24 finished a strong second behind the Spaniard, continues to grow stronger with each passing year. Schleck's only weakness has been the time trial, and this year could see him close the gap on his rivals even further.

Then there is "that American guy". Lance Armstrong admitted he was lacking the form to win the Tour de France in 2009 after his three-year hiatus from the sport, but has vowed to return this year intending to pick up win number eight. While Armstrong's performance last year at 37-years-old was impressive, he'll be looking to surprise himself with a little apple sauce like he did on Sestriere back in 1999. While a win for the Texan is a long shot, he still finished better that Wiggins despite the odds.

Knowing what Wiggins is up against Yates figures, "I can see a win in him."

Ever since the British Cycling track team's gold medal haul in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, cycling has enjoyed new-found popularity in the country. Wiggins, who suffered from alcohol problems after his gold medal in the individual pursuit at the Athens Games, is now a different man in Yates eyes, one that can carry the hopes of newly minted British cycling fans on the roads of France. "He can deal with the pressure," explained Yates, "It's all up for grabs."

The Team Sky director thinks Armstrong and company will be keeping a close eye on Wiggins along with the other podium finishers. "They were most worried about him, because he can time trial, he was climbing superbly, he wasn't showing any cracks and there was an element of uncertainty," explained Yates.

"Johan has ridden the track and knows what it takes. Things will be turning in his head. He will be asking questions and we'll be on the radar for sure."

Wiggins has worked with Brailsford and the rest of the British Cycling organization for many years as part of its track team. With them he won his pursuit gold medals in the Athens and Beijing Olympics, as well as several world championship titles.

For Wiggins, he's found a new groove, and with his experience in 2009 he expects to be in a different place mentally for this year's event.

"The difference this year will be that I know I can do it in the Tour," he explained. "This time last year I didn't know where I was in the sport. If I'd stood here a year ago and said I had a good chance of coming fourth everyone would have had a right old laugh. This time last year I didn't expect to go top five in the Tour; now I know what I have to do, what weight I have to be at, how long it all takes."

The key to his Tour success was the ability to lose weight without it being at the expense of his power. Wiggins came into the 2009 Tour de France weighing seven kilos less, something that allowed the lanky Brit to evolve into a general classification threat. His transformation was the revelation of the race last year, and the time trial specialist said he knows how to make the next step: "I did no training for stamina in the mountains. I didn't look at any of the course. I didn't even know what mountains we went up."

Details Wiggins expects to translate into results for Team Sky in June.

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