BESANCON, France (VN) — Bradley Wiggins patiently worked his way down the media scrum, answering the same question again and again: “Is the Tour over?”
Moments after barreling his way to his first Tour de France stage victory and extending his grip on the maillot jaune to 1:53 over defending champion Cadel Evans (BMC Racing), the Team Sky captain refused to take the bait.
“I do not want to get too carried away,” Wiggins said. “When you start dwelling on your successes, that when things can go wrong. We have to be very businesslike and get back to racing.”
If the Tour isn’t over, it’s certainly a dramatically altered race.
On Monday morning, Evans woke up only 10 seconds behind Wiggins and there was optimism inside the BMC camp that the defending champion could recapture the yellow jersey.
Those hopes quickly evaporated when it became evident that Wiggins was setting a broiling pace on the hilly route. An early time check put Wiggins 30 seconds ahead of Evans. The gap widened north of a minute as Wiggins confidently spun his web of victory.
Add Chris Froome’s stellar performance — second in the stage to rise to third overall — and Sky is just where they want to be.
“Some say that Bradley delivered the coup de grâce, but it’s still a long way to Paris,” Sky sport director Sean Yates said. “Everyone knows that a crash, a bad day, an illness can end your Tour in an instant.”
Yates admitted he was surprised to take so much time out of Evans, saying he expected about one minute, but added that the further gains only solidify the team’s position driving into the meat of the Tour.
With the hardest climbs across the Alps and Pyrenees still ahead, not to mention a final time trial on the Tour’s penultimate day, Yates said the Tour is just entering its hardest terrain.
“We are in a great position now,” Yates said. “There have been a lot of questions on whether he peaked too early — well, you guys gotta write about something — the goal was always to be at his peak during the Tour. He showed that today.”
Wiggins and Team Sky tried to tamp down their emotions in public, but behind the scenes, the team and the British star are ecstatic.
“I knew that Bradley was on the form of his life,” Yates said “This is it. This is the Tour de France. This is where it matters. This is where Bradley has been delivering. Long may it continue.”
For Wiggins, he knows that he’s in the driver’s seat to make history by becoming the first British winner of the Tour.
With a commanding lead and a strong team supporting him, he only needs to avoid major mishaps to defend yellow all the way to Paris.
“It’s all about being good for 21 days,” Wiggins said. “I have been consistently good so far. We’ve consolidated the yellow jersey. It’s looking good right now. It’s never over until it’s over.”
Somewhat lost in the shuffle is that Wiggins won the stage.
“It was a fantastic job,” said Yates. “He’d been waiting for this for months. The last 10 days, the pressure’s been building. The first week has been bloody nerve-racking, but we got through, now we’re in an ideal position. That was out of the top drawer, as we like to say in England.”
Team Sky can reflect Tuesday on what it all means. It’s back in the saddle for Wednesday’s entrée into the Alps.