Team Sky’s Bradley Wiggins says that his display so far in this year’s Vuelta demonstrates that he is a Grand Tour rider, and that the Tour de France rather than the London 2012 Olympics is his priority for next year. He also said he was happy with the outcome of Monday’s Individual Time Trial, in which he finished third, one place behind Team Sky colleague Chris Froome who now leads the race.
“I’m very satisfied with my performance,” explained Wiggins, speaking on yesterday’s first rest day of the 66th edition of the Spanish Grand Tour. “I’ve respected my plan with a very fast start. I gained time over all the riders who are fighting for GC: Nibali, Rodríguez, Scarponi and a few others.
“Only Chris Froome rode faster than me but he’s not an adversary, he’s my team-mate. I wasn’t racing to beat Tony Martin but to be in a good position at half way into the Vuelta. Here I am.”
Wiggins insisted that his performance on the climb of La Covatilla on Sunday, in which he came to the front of a small leading group in the final kilometres of a stage eventually won by Garmin-Cervelo’s Dan Martin, proved his climbing credentials.
“Everyone was at his max,” he stated. “When I push 450 watts like I did on Sunday in such a difficult climb, who in the world can do more? Only Alberto Contador and Andy Schleck but they aren’t here. I’ve seen some guys attacking but they couldn’t maintain their speed and stay away. They even paid for their efforts.
“When I took the lead of the front group three kilometres away from the top, I rode fast despite the head wind. I’m pretty good at guessing when my adversaries aren’t well. For three kilometres, I’ve ridden like Miguel Indurain! I had never done that before. I’ve done it after the great work done by Chris [Froome]. It’s fantastic for him to be in the lead. He deserves it and it takes some pressure from me.”
That Wiggins is competing in the Vuelta at all, let alone currently occupying a podium place, is a huge achievement given that less than two months ago he broke his collarbone in a crash at the end of the first week of the Tour de France.
“After my operation, I didn’t imagine that I’d be third at the Vuelta after ten days of racing,” agreed Wiggins, adding, “It’s been a hard month of July for me. I couldn’t watch the Tour on TV until the Pyrenees but then, I was like a fan. I’ve been very excited by what Thomas Voeckler was doing. I’ve rested for ten days, I’ve trained for ten days in Girona.
“I’m racing the Vuelta for the first time and the course suits the climbers! My current third place only confirms that I’m a rider for the Grand Tours.”
One of the reasons Wiggins is riding the Vuelta is that the gap between the end of the Vuelta and the World Time Trial Championship in Copenhagen next month is the same as that between the Tour de France and the Time Trial at London 2012 next year.
That seems to be the Olympic event he is leaning towards rather than help defend Great Britain’s Team Pursuit title – the Individual Pursuit, which he won in Athens and Beijing, has been dropped from the programme – and it wouldn’t give rise to the issues that a transition from the road to the track would bring about.
Asked whether he would prioritise next year’s Tour de France over London 2012, Wiggins was clear that the French race took precedence. “Winning a fourth gold medal would be nice but I absolutely need to focus on the Tour de France.
“If people question whether or not I can repeat my performance of 2009” – when Wiggins, then with Garmin Slipstream, finished fourth – “ my only concern is: when will I win it?”
Wiggins acknowledged that he was in a similar situation to Cadel Evans, whose chance to win the Tour seemed to have passed him by but who last month became the oldest man to win the race since the 1920s.
“I’m 31,” reflected the Briton. “Time flies. At the start of the next Tour de France, it’ll be three years after I finished 4th. In 2010, I didn’t have a great shape. In 2011, I crashed. In 2012, I have to perform.”
Should the transfer rumour mill prove true, Team Sky’s ambitions for next year’s race won’t just involve its team leader and the GC – there will also be the small matter of Mark Cavendish’s green points jersey to defend, but Wiggins says the two goals aren’t incompatible.
“If Mark joins Sky, the whole team will be riding at the front to prepare the sprints in the first week. I’ll only have to follow and that’s the best way to stay out of trouble,” he maintained.
The Vuelta resumes today in the Celtic region of Galicia in the northwest of the country, with toda's Stage 11 featuring a summit finish at the Manzaneda ski station.
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.