PAU, France (AFP) –
For Bradley Wiggins, legendary climbs like the Tourmalet or the Aubisque don’t have names: they are simply stretches of uphill road standing between him and an historic Tour de France victory Sunday.
Wiggins, the stand-out stage racer for the past year, will take a 2min 05sec lead over Sky teammate Chris Froome into the last two climbing stages of the race when it resumes on Wednesday.
With Italian Vincenzo Nibali in third at 2:23 and defending champion Cadel Evans of Australia even further off the pace, a British one-two on the Champs Elysees now looks likely.
First, however, comes two tough days in the Pyrenees.
On stage 16 the peloton tackles the Col d’Aubisque, the Col du Tourmalet, the Col d’Aspin and the Col de Peyresourde on the way to a downhill finish in Bagneres-de-Luchon.
Stage 17 begins in Bagneres-de-Luchon and takes in four climbs including the 11.7 km hike over the Port de Bales, before finishing with a 15.4 km ascension to Peyragudes.
For Wiggins, who grew up idolising Spaniard Miguel Indurain — the first rider to win the race five times consecutively — all notions of romance have to be shelved as he concentrates on the job at hand.
“It doesn’t matter what the climb is called. It’s just a name at the end of the day,” he said on the race’s second rest day Tuesday.
“At this stage of the Tour, whatever they put in front of you… ultimately it boils down to the same thing — if you haven’t got it physically you’re going to get dropped on a day like yesterday.”
While some in the race will be hoping for Wiggins to come under attack from Evans, Nibali and a few others, he is not about to change Team Sky’s winning formula so far for Wednesday’s epic.
“I don’t think it’s any more difficult than any other stage we’ve done to this stage,” said Wiggins.
“We could sit here all day talking about scenarios… but we just see how it plays out on the road ultimately.
“Ultimately, it’s about going out there tomorrow and averaging 400 watts (of power) for whatever climb, climb after climb, and rehydrating, and re-fuelling on the bike and that’s what ultimately wins you bike races.”
Sky’s impressive pace-setting in the mountains has effectively left Evans and Nibali struggling to sustain the rare attacks they have thrown at the Briton.
Not surprisingly, Wiggins says he has nothing to fear.
“I don’t really fear anything. It’s just a case of going out and doing the performance. What is there to fear? At the end of the day it’s just a bike race,” he said.
“We’ll go out there, do what we’ve done every day this year and whatever happens, happens.”
Having dropped to fourth overall at 3:19, Evans — an historic champion last year after twice finishing runner-up — appears to have conceded defeat.
“They ride a continuous tempo that’s leaving the climbers pretty empty when they get to the final. It’s making it difficult to do stuff,” he said.
As he prepares to start his ninth day in yellow on Wednesday, Wiggins had a word of encouragement for his rival.
“He’s not given up once. He fights until the end of the line. And that’s something to be admired,” added the Englishman.
“A lesser man would have thrown in the towel, climbed off because he wasn’t going to win. He’s remained dignified and ever day he’s gone out there as though he’s still leading this race.”