Team Sky's Bradley Wiggins this afternoon rode a stunning time trial in Stage 4 of the Critérium du Dauphiné, putting in the quickest time of 1:03:12, more than half a minute quicker than second placed Tony Martin of Omega Pharma-Quick Step, the world champion in the discipline, to consolidate his lead in the race he won last year. In the process, Wiggins dealt a potential psychological blow to BMC Racing's Cadel Evans ahead of the Tour de France which starts at the end of this month; the Australian, lying second overall this morning, had rolled off the ramp in Villié Morgan two minutes before Wiggins this afternoon, but the British rider crossed the finish line in Bourg-en-Bresse just seconds behind him at the end of the 53.5 kilometre course. On another great day for Team Sky, former world time trial champion Mick Rogers was third, with Chris Froome sixth.
Today’s time trial also resulted in a big shake-up in the general classification, which this morning saw 20 riders separated by just a dozen seconds. Wiggins, of course, retains the race lead, but has stretched his advantage over Martin, four seconds behind him at the start of the day and now lying second, to 38 seconds. Rogers moved up to third, one minute 20 seconds behind his team leader, with team mate Sylvain Chavanel fourth and Evans dropping to fifth, one minute 44 seconds off the lead.
There are still three weeks to go until the Tour de France starts in Liege and some might wonder whether Wiggins has peaked too soon, while also pointing out that some riders such as Evans have had their early season disrupted by illness or injury and will be using the Dauphiné to ride themselves into form for the Tour, rather than targeting the race win.
While his title defence isn’t wrapped up yet – the race heads into the high mountains tomorrow with an ascent of the Grand Colombier, followed by tough climbs on the final two stages at the weekend – Wiggins, supported by a strong core of riders from Team Sky, is so far proving himself to be peerless when it comes to stage races this year, winning Paris-Nice in March and following that up with the overall in the Tour de Romandie.
A three-week race is a different proposition to one lasting seven or eight days, but with more than 100 kilometres of time trialling in the parcours of this year’s Tour, and perhaps less of an emphasis on tough mountain stages than there has been in recent years, the route could be tailor-made for Wiggins.
“It was a solid time trial for everyone today, there was no way of bluffing it or fluking it," he said afterwards. "It was a real test in the conditions. It’s just nice to be out there in that discipline after all the training we've spent on the time trial bike over the winter and in the last few weeks.
“To beat the world champion is a big thing as I’ve not finished ahead of Tony many times in the past. I beat him at Algarve at the start of the season but that was by milliseconds so to do it by a clear margin this time is a huge satisfaction.
“We’ve been chasing Tony for a long time," he added. "He raised the bar at the World Championship last year so that was a starting point for us; to work towards trying to get close to him. It's by no means going to be the same every time trial we do from now on but it’s something nice to show the kids when they are older!
“However I don’t think you can look into it too much," he cautioned. "It’s not a form guide for the Tour de France, it’s just how you happened to go on one particular day but it's definitely a nice position to be in.”
Team Sky sports director Sean Yates added: “The display from Bradley today was out of the top drawer and worthy of all the praise that comes his way.
“He came into the race looking to get GC and the team has been backing him superbly to this point; then on a day like today it’s up to him to deliver, which is exactly what he did and in quite outstanding fashion. It was a great performance."
He too warned against reading too much into today's result ahead of the Tour, saying: “He had a plan, stuck to it and the result is there for all to see but we’ve got to keep our feet on the ground.”
Reflecting on his time trial today, Evans, who was second in this race to Wiggins 12 months ago, the fourth time he has been runner-up in the Dauphiné, said: "I've had some troubles there. I felt I lost power in the flat and straight road. I need to work on it, but as I said already, I still need to make some improvements before the Tour.
"I was hoping for a better result, but when compared to last year, it was about the same," added the Australian, who took the maillot jaune on the penultimate day of the Tour last year following the time trial in Grenoble, in which he finished second to Martin.
"I was not at the level of the specialists at that moment of the season last year either," he added.
One rider the Tour’s itinerary doesn’t suit this year is Andy Schleck, whose well catalogued weakness against the clock was compounded today after he crashed early on, tearing his skinsuit and collecting some painful looking road rash on his right buttock.
Whether it’s his form, the after-effects of a knee injury or a reported falling out with RadioShack-Nissan team manager Johan Bruyneel that has led to Schleck apparently losing all interest in this race, the Dauphiné is proving disastrous for the rider who last week collected the maillot jaune after being awarded the 2010 Tour de France as a result of Alberto Contador being stripped of the title.
Whtaever the explanation, the week is proving less than ideal preparation for him ahead of the Tour, although we’ll have to wait to July to see just how deep-rooted the problems are that seem to be affecting his racing.
In comprehensively beating Martin today, Wiggins also put down a marker for the Olympic time trial in London in early August, although it should be borne in mind that the German has only recently returned to racing after being injured when he was struck by a car while training a couple of months ago, and may also be feeling the after-effects of a minor crash yesterday.
The early pace today was set by Orica-GreenEdge’s Luke Durbridge, winner of Sunday’s prologue and the 19th man out on the course this afternoon, and no-one would come close to beating his time of 1:04:50 until Wilco Kelderman of Rabobank, starting more than two hours later, set what would be the fourth fastest time of the day at 1:04:36.
The Dutchman nearly came to grief on a tricky left hand bend just short of the line, struggling to keep his bike upright and avoid running wide into the barriers as his rear wheel threatened to slide out from underneath him, and Garmin-Barracuda’s David Millar would encounter similar difficulties but managed to keep control to post the ninth fastest time.
Critérium du Dauphiné Stage 4 result 1 WIGGINS Bradley SKY PROCYCLING 1h 03' 12" 2 MARTIN Tony OMEGA PHARMA-QUICK STEP + 00' 34" 3 ROGERS Michael SKY PROCYCLING + 01' 11" 4 KELDERMAN Wilco RABOBANK CYCLING TEAM + 01' 25" 5 CHAVANEL Sylvain OMEGA PHARMA-QUICK STEP + 01' 33" 6 FROOME Christopher SKY PROCYCLING + 01' 33" 7 DURBRIDGE Luke ORICA GREENEDGE + 01' 37" 8 EVANS Cadel BMC RACING TEAM + 01' 43" 9 MILLAR David GARMIN-BARRACUDA + 01' 51" 10 SANCHEZ Luis-Leon RABOBANK CYCLING TEAM + 01' 53" 11 VAN DEN BROECK Jurgen LOTTO-BELISOL TEAM + 02' 12" 12 GRIVKO Andriy ASTANA PRO TEAM + 02' 16" 13 VAN GARDEREN Tejay BMC RACING TEAM + 02' 28" 14 SIUTSOU Kanstantsin SKY PROCYCLING + 02' 28" 15 KIRYIENKA Vasil MOVISTAR TEAM + 02' 30" 16 BRAJKOVIC Janez ASTANA PRO TEAM + 02' 33" 17 HAGEN Edvald Boasson SKY PROCYCLING + 02' 38" 18 PLAZA MOLINA Ruben MOVISTAR TEAM + 02' 39" 19 COPPEL Jérôme SAUR-SOJASUN + 02' 49" 20 AMADOR Andrey MOVISTAR TEAM + 02' 50" Overall Standings after Stage 4 1 WIGGINS Bradley SKY PROCYCLING 14h 11' 07" 2 MARTIN Tony OMEGA PHARMA-QUICK STEP + 00' 38" 3 ROGERS Michael SKY PROCYCLING + 01' 20" 4 CHAVANEL Sylvain OMEGA PHARMA-QUICK STEP + 01' 38" 5 EVANS Cadel BMC RACING TEAM + 01' 44" 6 KELDERMAN Wilco RABOBANK CYCLING TEAM + 01' 45" 7 FROOME Christopher SKY PROCYCLING + 01' 48" 8 MILLAR David GARMIN-BARRACUDA + 02' 00" 9 SANCHEZ Luis-Leon RABOBANK CYCLING TEAM + 02' 02" 10 GRIVKO Andriy ASTANA PRO TEAM + 02' 18"
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.