With the final mountain stage of the 2012 Tour de France done and dusted, Bradley Wiggins is now assured of wearing the yellow jersey as the peloton rides on to the Champs Elysees on Sunday afternoon.
Wiggins has been superlative. He has taken on and beaten all contenders.
He has broken 2011 Tour champion Cadel Evans in the mountains on no less than three occasions. On Stage 17, he took on and comprehensively beat Vincenzo Nibali—the only serious remaining contender.
He has been untouchable since the Stage 9 individual time-trial when he put over a minute and a half into Evans. Since then he has gained time on everyone else in the field.
In many ways Wiggins has been upstaged by young teammate Chris Froome.
Although Wiggins’ blistering time in the ITT bettered the younger rider by 35 seconds—quite a margin in the world of cycling—he would have a difficult time saying that he was the best rider on the Tour.
While Froome has been the consummate teammate—sacrificing his own race to support his team leader—it did seem that the support was not given willingly. On at least one occasion he had to be ordered to stay with Wiggins when he clearly had the energy to pull away.
Of course, we can never know what may have happened had Froome been given his head on the Stage 11 final climb into La Toussuire, however it was abundantly clear that Wiggins could not match the younger man’s acceleration.
When he received the radio message that Wiggins was dropped off, his annoyance was palpable and visible for all to see.
While Froome was absolutely professional and backed off to assist Wiggins on the climb, his last minute acceleration at the very end of the stage took a meagre, but symbolic, two seconds of Wiggins’ lead.
It was an act of defiance that cracked open the door to the current of disharmony running through the inner workings of Team Sky.
In a post stage interview with SBS television, Froome was asked “On current form, right here and now, which of you is the strongest rider?”
His answer is a study in damning someone with faint praise. “Bradley is definitely stronger, he is without a doubt the team leader, and er, we’re all here to support him.”
Even towards the end of Stage 17, when they had destroyed everyone else in the field, Froome was still not released to pursue a stage win, repeatedly looking to his leader for what appeared to be permission to go off in pursuit of Alejandro Valverde who was only a tantalizing 19 seconds up the road.
Froome may not have caught him, but it would have made for an exciting chase.
That action of cajoling his team leader to either release him or speed up has been taken as a huge sign of disrespect, but in reality it is youthful enthusiasm. Wiggins admitted that once the message came through that Nibali had cracked, he lost concentration.
He needed to be reminded of the task at hand. The fact that Froome didn’t just ride off and leave his leader shows all the respect that is needed.
Wiggins will undoubtedly go on to claim more time over Froome in the Stage 19 time-trial and may well finish with a leading margin of somewhere approaching three minutes.
While history will judge it as a comfortable win, we’ll never know quite how comfortable it actually was.
Froome’s performance has made many in the cycling world sit up and take notice. On this year’s form, he could easily justify a team leader’s spot on a lot of teams. The one he wants however, is the top job at Team Sky.
According to the Mail Online, he has stated that he expects the team’s support next year in what is expected to be a more mountainous course.
Time will tell whether he’ll get that support, but either way, it will be fun to watch.
Bradley Wiggins is a deserving winner of the Tour de France and deserves all of the accolades that go along with that, but the thank you present that the winner traditionally buys for his teammates had better be a good one for Froome.