Bradley Wiggins heads to the Tour de France in three weeks' time shouldering the expectations of a nation that to date has never produced a winner of cycling's biggest race after today clinching victory in the Critérium du Dauphiné for the second year running. Having won Paris-Nice in March, the Team Sky rider goes to the Tour as the reigning champion in France's two next most prestigious stage races, and a dominant performance this week by both Wiggins and the key riders who will support him in the three week Grand Tour suggests that should they carry that form into July, the 32-year-old could become the first British winner of the maillot jaune. The stage victory today went to Katusha's Daniel Moreno, winner of Stage 2 last Tuesday, from fellow Spaniard Luis Leon Sanchez of Rabobank. Cadel Evans, ahead of the defence of his Tour de France title, finished third in the stage and occupied the same position on GC. Wiggins crossed the line seconds later, pumping his arms in celebration of a convincing victory.
A memorable week for Team Sky was capped by Michael Rogers finishing second overall, 1 minute 17 seconds behind Wiggins, and Chris Froome securing fourth place on GC. Edvald Boasson Hagen, winner of Wednesday’s Stage 3 in La Clayette, finished fourth today after a large lead group hit the foot of the final 1.5 kilometre climb to Châtel together at the end of the short, 124.5 kilometre stage.
“I think it's always harder to do it a second time," said Wiggins after his overall victory was confirmed today. "Last year I didn't come into the race as the favourite so to do that this year and know from day one, from being second in the prologue, that I was one of the favourites, it's a better and harder way to win.
“Obviously we've had a few goes at it now so I think we're getting better at it if anything.," he continued. "It's probably gone better than the other races have gone this season, it's been a lot smoother.
He went on: “Obviously everyone is getting ready for the Tour now. We had our strong guys here and Eddy [Boasson Hagen] is back in this group and he's made a huge difference this week.
“It's certainly getting easier each time, not in terms of the effort but in terms of staying cool at the right moments and knowing what to do and when to do it,” he concluded.
Some might say that form in the Dauphine is an unreliable guide to what happens in the Tour de France – Jens Voigt pointed out as much on Twitter earlier this week – but it’s worth reflecting that on the four occasions that Evans has been runner-up in this race, he’s gone on to secure two second places and one victory in the Tour.
The exception was 2009 when he received little support from his then team Lotto, and that sponsor’s logo had barely been added to the rainbow jersey the Australian won in Mendrisio that September when he announced he was leaving for BMC.
Moreover, apart from Wiggins, who also won April's Tour de Romandie, and Evans, who secured the points jersey today, it's been a difficult week for two of the other men viewed as being among the leading contenders for the maillot jaune next month - Liquigas-Cannondale's Vincenzo Nibali, who lost nine minutes yesterday on the climb of the Col du Joux Plane as Team Sky set a cracking pace at the front of the bunch, and Andy Schleck.
The latter abandoned the race yesterday, citing the injuries he had picked up in a crash on Thursday's individual time trial, but there are suspicions that other factors lie behind his poor showing in the race including a deterioration in his relationship with his manager at RadioShack-Nissan, Johan Bruyneel.
Certainly, Team Sky as a unit look even stronger this time around compared to 12 months ago, but an important task during the Tour will be to keep Wiggins out of trouble to minimise the chances of mishaps such as that mid-stage crash at the end of the first week of last year’s Tour that put him out of the race with a broken collarbone.
The evidence from this week, however, is that the riders are in form, the team is well drilled, and with a parcours that suits Wiggins with more than 100 kilometres of time trialling included, he has to be a strong favourite to at least make the podium, which again would be a first for a British rider - he currently holds the joint highest placing of fourth, along with Robert Millar.
“We came into the race with a clear plan which was to try and win it and obviously Bradley came up with the goods which was mighty impressive," said Team Sky sports director, Sean Yates. "He had a fantastic team to back him up.
“The final stage panned out just as we wanted it. The parcours dictated what would happen. It was just a question of keeping your fingers crossed that there were no incidents of any kind which would put a spanner in the works. From a physical level it was never going to be a problem.
“The Tour de France is on the horizon. It's a lot more complicated as a race but we're where we want to be, in a good position and looking forward to it,” Yates added.
Today’s stage from Morzine saw a fast start as the road headed downhill and it was not until more than 50 kilometres had been raced that a breakaway managed to stick.
Ahead of that, Europcar’s Thomas Voeckler, who spent nearly a fortnight in the maillot jaune during last year’s Tour, abandoned the race so as not to aggravate a knee injury, while the Colombian José Sarmiento of Liquigas-Cannondale secured sufficient points on the day’s first categorised climb to give himself an insurmountable lead in the mountains classification.
The group that got away comprised eight riders including RadioShack Nissan’s Yaroslav Popovych, Sylvain Chavanel and Stijn Vandenbergh of Omega Pharma-Quick Step and Christophe Le Mével of Garmin-Barracuda, but they were given very little leeway by the chasing group, Team Sky controlling the pace and allowing a maximum advantage of a little over two and a half minutes.
With 37 kilometres still to go, three of the escapees, Jérôme Coppel of Saur-Sojasun, Vacansoleil-DCM’s Lieuwe Westra and Europcar’s Pierre Rolland attacked again on the Côte de la Vernaz.
The two Frenchmen shed Westra on the descent of the Col du Corbier, crested 22 kilometres from the finish, but an attack off the front of the main group by Nibali saw their advantage tumble and with BMC leading the charge as they looked to set up Evans for what would have been his second stage win in this year’s edition of the Dauphiné, the race was all back together as the riders headed into the final two kilometres ahead of that last ascent.
Critérium du Dauphiné Stage 7 result 1 MORENO Daniel KATUSHA TEAM 2h 59' 37" 2 SANCHEZ Luis-Leon RABOBANK CYCLING TEAM Same time 3 EVANS Cadel BMC RACING TEAM 4 HAGEN Edvald Boasson SKY PROCYCLING 5 NOCENTINI Rinaldo AG2R LA MONDIALE 6 WEENING Pieter ORICA GREENEDGE 7 VAN DEN BROECK Jurgen LOTTO-BELISOL TEAM 8 DEVENYNS Dries OMEGA PHARMA-QUICK STEP 9 PORTE Richie SKY PROCYCLING 10 ROGERS Michael SKY PROCYCLING + 00' 07" 11 FROOME Christopher SKY PROCYCLING 12 ZUBELDIA Haimar RADIOSHACK-NISSAN 13 BRAJKOVIC Janez ASTANA PRO TEAM + 00' 10" 14 CHARTEAU Anthony TEAM EUROPCAR 15 KELDERMAN Wilco RABOBANK CYCLING TEAM 16 NAVARRO Daniel TEAM SAXO BANK + 00' 10" 17 KIRYIENKA Vasil MOVISTAR TEAM 18 GALLOPIN Tony RADIOSHACK-NISSAN 19 WIGGINS Bradley SKY PROCYCLING 20 MACHADO Tiago RADIOSHACK-NISSAN + 00' 15" Final Overall Standings 1 WIGGINS Bradley SKY PROCYCLING 26h 40' 46" 2 ROGERS Michael SKY PROCYCLING + 01' 17" 3 EVANS Cadel BMC RACING TEAM + 01' 26" 4 FROOME Christopher SKY PROCYCLING + 01' 45" 5 VAN DEN BROECK Jurgen LOTTO-BELISOL TEAM + 02' 12" 6 KIRYIENKA Vasil MOVISTAR TEAM + 02' 58" 7 BRAJKOVIC Janez ASTANA PRO TEAM + 03' 07" 8 KELDERMAN Wilco RABOBANK CYCLING TEAM + 03' 26" 9 PORTE Richie SKY PROCYCLING + 03' 34" 10 ZUBELDIA Haimar RADIOSHACK-NISSAN + 03' 50"
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.