Wiggins closes in on Tour victory

Bradley Wiggins struck a decisive blow in his quest to win the Tour de France as he extended his lead over his rivals after the final day in the mountains.

With three stages to go – including Saturday’s time trial – Wiggins’ lead over Team Sky team-mate Chris Froome remains at two minutes five seconds.

But third placed Vincenzo Nibali lost 18 more seconds on Thursday as Froome and Wiggins finished second and third.

Alejandro Valverde held off the late Sky assault to win in the Pyrenees.

Analysis

“Barring accidents, that is definitely job done and the Tour won for Bradley Wiggins. He and Team Sky had as easy a day as they could have had hoped because they had to do virtually nothing. Near the end, Wiggins and Froome were probably saying ‘we’ve done it’ as much as anything because I don’t think they would have expected Vincenzo Nibali to lose time. The only thing I regret is that if Froome had been given a free hand, he could have won the stage too.”

Only two more days’ real racing lies between Wiggins and the top of the podium in Paris.

Sunday’s final stage, when by convention the yellow jersey is never attacked, is a procession into the French capital and to the finish line on the Champs Elysees, bar the bunch sprint for the stage win.

Wiggins was expected to be given a tough test on the last day in the mountains, with Nibali knowing Wiggins is a superior time trialist and that this was his last chance to attack.

Nibali’s Liquigas team tried to set up the Italian for a stage win, as well as putting pressure on Team Sky, on the climb towards the finish line at Peyragudes but he could not keep the pace all the way to the finish line.

It was left to Froome and Wiggins to try to chase down Valverde and, despite Froome trying to urge his team-mate on, it was the Spaniard who crossed the line first, 19 seconds ahead of the Team Sky duo.

Nibali is now two minutes and 41 seconds adrift of Wiggins, who admitted afterwards he lost concentration in the final section of the stage.

“We were talking about Nibali,” said Wiggins. “We knew he was on his limit.

“The moment we crossed the Peyresourde, I allowed myself to drift and that was the first time I thought maybe I’ve won the Tour today.

“All the way up that last climb my concentration had gone, everything about performance had gone.

“Chris was egging me on to take more time and I was in another world, really.”

Team Sky general manager Dave Brailsford praised the rest of his squad for their support of Froome and Wiggins but said he would not relax until the 32-year-old Londoner is sure of becoming the first British rider to win the Tour in its 109-year history.

“Credit to the guys they did it again,” Brailsford said. “All the work they did to set it up for the two guys at the end was brilliant. Now that the mountains are over we can let out a sigh of relief and look forward to Friday.

“We set out to consolidate the lead and the yellow jersey and we showed again we are the best team in the race. Unity was really important to us, I’m very proud of that.

“The closer you are the more you have to lose. It is my job to ensure that tomorrow [Friday] we’ll be as vigilant as at the start of the Tour.”

Stage 17 top five:

1.

Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar 4:12:11″

2.

Chris Froome (GB) Team Sky +19″

3.

Bradley Wiggins (GB) Team Sky +19″

4.

Thibaut Pinot (Fra) FDJ +22″

5.

Pierre Rolland (Fra) Europcar +26″

Overall race standing after stage 17:

1.

Bradley Wiggins (GB) Team Sky 78:28:02″

2.

Chris Froome (GB) Team Sky +2:05″

3.

Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas +2:41″

4.

Jurgen Van den Broeck (Bel) Lotto Belisol +5:53″

5.

Tejay Van Garderen (US) BMC Racing +8:30″

Article source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/0/cycling/18914331

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