Bradley Wiggins has another week to defend the yellow jersey. Can anyone even challenge him?
With a healthy time gap over his closest challenger, and that challenger being his own teammate Christopher Froome, some people are saying the Tour is now a race for third place. With Vicenzo Nibali offering up spirited resistance but no threat, and Cadel Evans looking like a forlorn hope, there’s almost nowhere for anyone to gain time on Wiggins.
Today’s stage into Foix marks the entrance of the Tour into the Pyrenees, the last good chance for Evans, Nibali and RadioShack’s Haimar Zubeldia to go on the attack. Strategy for the teams hoping to dislodge Wiggins has been reduced to hoping Wiggins has a bad day and that Sky orders Froome to stay with Wiggins if the yellow jersey gets gapped. It’s a long shot, but not unheard of. Evans and Nibali must be anxious to see Wiggins’ flotilla of support tire and pull off early. As strong as Wiggins and Froome have been, the real strength of Sky’s Tour is in its depth. Mick Rogers, Richie Porte, Edvald Boasson Hagan, Christian Knees and even the sprint duo of Bernie Eisel and Mark Cavendish have been absolutely selfless in their efforts on the front. As has been pointed out numerous times in the past few days, these are all riders that would be leaders on most other teams in the race, but are slogging away for Sky in 2012.
The opportunities are growing thin, but Wednesday’s stage to Luchon, which includes a trip up the Tourmalet, should provide the necessary climbing to weaken Sky and perhaps leave Wiggins and Froome armed with only Rogers or Porte for the final two climbs of the day before a descent to the line. The last summit finish at Peyragudes on Thursday will be run at breakneck speed. Anyone with any hopes of winning, taking a podium spot or breaking into the top ten will be going full gas and attacking Sky from the gun. The HC climb of Port Bales should be enough to shed riders, leaving only the top climbers left for the final 15km climb of the Tour.
No one is going to take substantial time on Wiggins in the final time trial. There’s time on the road, in the mountains, in the crosswinds…But Evans, Nibali and the rest of the rivals are running out of time quickly.