Bradley Wiggins has tightened his grip on the maillot jaune of Tour de France leader after putting 1 minute 43 seconds into defending champion Cadel Evans of BMC Racing in today's Stage 9 individual time trial in Besancon. Wggins' Team Sky colleague Chris Froome moves up to third overall after finishing second today, 30 seconds behind his team leader. Wiggins now lies 1 minute 53 seconds ahead of Evans in the overall standings. The performance of both Team Sky riders changes the complexion of the race, with Wiggins' rivals for the overall victory now compelled to attack in the Alps and Pyrenees to try and take as much time as possible from him ahead of another individual time trial on the penultimate day of the race a week on Saturday.
Today’s victory by Wiggins, achieved in a time of 51 minutes 24 seconds to give him his first stage win in the Tour de France, not only reflects the fact that he – and Froome, for that matter – are in the form of their life, but also the methodical approach that Team Sky has taken in ensuring that nothing was left to chance in his bid to become the first British rider to win the Tour de France.
It was clear from comments from some of the earlier riders out on the 41.5 kilometre course, including specialists in the time trial who might have been expected to put in some of the quicker times this afternoon, that the course was tougher than the profile published by organisers ASO suggested.
It held no such surprises for Team Sky; the stage was always likely to be a pivotal one for Wiggins’ hopes of overall victory, and today’s ride was the fruit of months of preparation, including actually getting out there and riding the course.
Four-time world time trial champion Fabian Cancellara of RadioShack-Nissan had already set the then fastest time of 52 minutes 21 seconds by the time Evans then Wiggins, as the maillot jaune the last man to start today, rolled off the start ramp at Arc-et-Senans, home to the historic buildings of France’s former royal saltworks.
Evans’ BMC Racing colleague, Tejay Van Garderen, had gone quicker than Cancellara at both the first and second intermediate time checks, but faded towards the end to post what was the second fastest time as the two leaders set out on the course.
An early sign of what was to come was given when Froome went 24 seconds quicker than Van Garderen at the first intermediate timing point, which came after 16.5 kilometres at the top of the day’s one significant climb, which riders such as Garmin-Sharp’s David Millar had earlier said proved to be much tougher than they expected.
Wiggins would go even quicker over that first part of the course, posting a time five seconds quicker than his team mate in 21 minutes 5 seconds; Evans, meanwhile, had lost time not only to the Team Sky pair, losing 1 minute 2 seconds to the maillot jaune, but had also ceded five seconds to Liquigas-Cannondale’s Vincenzo Nibali, who had been third overall this morning.
By the second time check, taken after 31.5 kilometres, Evans, who took the maillot jaune at last year's Tour in the individual time trial at Grenoble on the penultimate day, had ceded another 17 seconds to Wiggins, who again went through quickest in a time of 39 minutes 2 seconds, Froome once more second fastest, 16 seconds slower than his team mate.
Evans would eventually cross the line in Besançon, coincidentally France’s watchmaking capital, with a time of 53 minutes 7 seconds, putting him in sixth place, 19 seconds behind Omega Pharma-Quick Step’s Sylvain Chavanel, who again surprised with the fifth fastest time of the day.
Besançon is also twinned with Kirklees, the borough encompassing Huddersfield, Dewsbury and Batley, among other towns, and a deputation including those hoping to bring the Tour de France to Yorkshire had crossed the Channel to be treated to Wiggins and Froome setting the two quickest times, with Cancellara and Van Garderen dropping, respectively, to third and fourth on the day's stage.
Earlier, for the second time in a stage against the clock in this year’s race, world time trial champion Tony Martin Omega Pharma-Quick Step, unusually running clinchers which he believes enable him to ride faster than tubs, saw his hopes of setting the quickest time wrecked by a puncture. He would go on to set what would ultimately prove to be just the twelfth fastest time today.
During June’s Critérium du Dauphiné, Evans had come close to suffering the ignominy of being overtaken by Wiggins in the individual time trial, when the pair were again the final two riders out on the course, but the three-minute gaps between the later starters today rather than the two-minute intervals in that earlier race meant there was little prospect of the British rider getting Evans in his sights today, physically at least.
Following that perfomance in the Dauphiné, which put Wiggins into the driving seat to retain the title he had won 12 months previously, many wondered whether he could continue that form into the Tour or if he had peaked too soon, as well as whether Evans’ performance in that race reflected his building his form ahead of the Tour, with his strongest performances yet to come.
To an extent, those questions have been answered today, at least in the context of the first ten days of what is, after all, a three-week Tour.
Wiggins, reigning champion in France’s second and third most important stage races, Paris-Nice and the Dauphiné, as well as Switzerland’s Tour de Romandie, has proved he is the strongest week-long stage racer this year, but he now finds himself in uncharted territory as he heads into the second half of the Tour de France as leader. True, Froome and Wiggins finished second and third respectively behind Juan-Jose Cobo in September’s Vuelta, but the Tour is another proposition altogtether.
Evans, it has to be acknnowledged, has a history of podium places behind him at the Tour, culminating in last year’s victory, but that was achieved by his being able to limit losses to his rivals in the mountains, for example by leading the chase when Andy Schleck went on the attack on the Galibier stage on the final Thursday, then using his strength against the clock to take the overall lead on the last but one day; the difference this year is that there are now two riders ahead of him in the general classification who are much stronger time triallers, and what’s more, both are in the same team.
Tomorrow’s rest day gives Wiggins’ rivals plenty of opportunity to reflect on their strategy for the second half of the race when it gets under way in Mâcon on Wednesday, a stage that includes the ascent of the Grand Colombier, where Evans’ BMC Racing tried – and failed – to crack Wiggins during the Dauphiné.
With only two summit finishes left in the race, the opportunities to claw back the time lost on Wiggins, and in the case of everyone bar Evans, Froome, are limited, and what’s more based on today’s performance anyone with aspirations of the maillot jaune will need at least a couple of minutes on the Team Sky pair ahead of that final time trial from Bonneval to Chartres the day before the traditional procession into Paris.
As for Nibali, the likelihood is that he will use one of the stages that features a descent towards the finish to attack on the climb and then plummet down the other side to try and get some time back; throughout the Tour, the Sicilian has insisted to the Italian press that Wiggins can be isolated and is vulnerable to attacks, but the very fact he has made little mention of Evans betrays who he sees as his principal rival.
From a fan’s point of view, it is to be hoped that Team Sky’s rivals give it a go and provide us with a thrilling denouement to the race over the next fortnight; for some, however, with valuable UCI ranking points carrying a premium in the Tour de France, there is bound to be a temptation to try and defend what they have, which in some cases is understandable but would make for far less spectacle.
Maillot jaune and stage winner Bradley Wiggins, Team Sky:
"We're nine days into the Tour now and there were two tough stages before today. Everyone was tired last night and you never know how you're going to recover. Time trialling's what I do best though. I get into my zone, know exactly the routine I have to go through during the stage and I felt great today. The minute I turned the first pedal stroke on the warm-up I felt fantastic so I knew I was on a good one.
"This is what we've trained for. Sean [Yates] was saying to me on the radio in the last 10km - 'think of all those hours, all those sacrifices you've made' - this is what that was all for and that really motivated me. All the hard work during the winter, missing my children's birthdays being on training camps and things - this is what it's all for - these moments.
"I didn't set out today for the stage win, it was a battle for the GC, but to get the stage win is a bonus and that's fantastic as well."
Chris Froome of Team Sky, second today and now third overall:
"There's no tactics on days like today. Time trials are by far the hardest event in cycling. You just have to go as fast as you can and turn yourself inside out to get the best time possible. In terms of the race information I was getting in my ear, it's good to know you're putting in a fast time but then you've also got to be careful you've not started too fast and overcook it so it's a very fine line to gauge that effort.
"Bradley's time was quite a bit faster than mine but I'm really happy with the performance I put in. I gave it everything I had and that's all I could do. It was a big performance we put in and there could be a bit of a celebration later. There's still a long way to go before I can start thinking about a podium position, I'll just take it day by day from here."
Sean Yates, Team Sky Sports Director:
“Bradley and Froomey delivered what they promised and what they’ve been working towards all year. It was a top drawer performance. It’s never been done before in British cycling and you can’t get much bigger than that.
“It’s a repeat of what we’ve been doing all year. We started out taking it day by day, treating it just as we would any other race and it was a continuation of the same theme.
“Our goal is still to have the jersey in Paris. That means not jeopardising Bradley’s GC position. We’re going to try and do that in the best way possible. It’s the best ever performance by a Brit in the sport. It’s up there with the greats in my opinion. There are still 11 stages to go and a lot of teams who haven’t won a stage. For sure they will be trying.”
Defending champion Cadel Evans of BMC Racing, who remains second overall:
"I rode not my best time trial but certainly not a bad one. In comparison to the other time triallists like Fabian Cancellara and Tony Martin and so on, it seems as though I wasn't so far off the mark. But Sky had two very, very strong riders today.
"We'll re-assess the situation day-by-day and of course we don't give up, that's for sure. There's still a lot more racing to go before Paris."
Tejay Van Garderen of BMC Racing, fourth today and back in the best young rider’s white jersey:
"We mainly talked about not taking risks. I told him [Evans] I'd go hard, but try to keep it a regular tempo to not go too over the edge. I had to promise Cadel I wouldn't crash. It wasn't until the second half that I really started to ramp it up."
BMC Racing Team Directeur Jonathan Lelangue:
"We just wanted to do like we did in Grenoble last year, like we did in former time trials in all the races this year. We just considered it a normal time trial and did our own race. Two minutes, two weeks – we have time."
Fabian Cancellara of RadioShack-Nissan, third today:
“The time trial is always the same. You have to really focus and give everything. That’s what I’ve done. I was really feeling some of the pain from yesterday’s stage. It was an intense stage so I told myself today to go, start and do everything as usual. I didn’t focus on other riders, I just did my own time trial.
"I’m happy about my performance and that’s the most important thing for us, to give everything we have. I just went through this ‘tunnel’ by myself until I saw the light at the finish line. I had support from my team, from home and supporters on the road. That helps you get more from yourself and keep fighting until the last metre.
“Riding for the stage and riding to lead the Tour de France are two separate things. When you see how Sky has continued to perform better and better, it shows they have continued to work hard. That’s the demonstration of hard work. We also have been working hard.
“We have six riders in the top 16 and we’re making the best of what we have. Sky will have a hard Tour de France with the mountain stages to come. Everyone is now looking forward to the rest day for recovery and then we’ll see what happens in the next two weeks. The Tour isn’t over yet.”
Tour de France Stage 9 result 1 WIGGINS Bradley SKY PROCYCLING 51' 24'' 2 FROOME Christopher SKY PROCYCLING + 00' 35'' 3 CANCELLARA Fabian RADIOSHACK-NISSAN + 00' 57'' 4 VAN GARDEREN Tejay BMC RACING TEAM + 01' 06'' 5 CHAVANEL Sylvain OMEGA PHARMA-QUICK STEP + 01' 24'' 6 EVANS Cadel BMC RACING TEAM + 01' 43'' 7 VELITS Peter OMEGA PHARMA-QUICK STEP + 01' 59'' 8 NIBALI Vincenzo LIQUIGAS-CANNONDALE + 02' 07'' 9 MENCHOV Denis KATUSHA TEAM + 02' 08'' 10 KLÖDEN Andréas RADIOSHACK-NISSAN + 02' 09'' 11 MONFORT Maxime RADIOSHACK-NISSAN + 02' 15'' 12 MARTIN Tony OMEGA PHARMA-QUICK STEP + 02' 16'' 13 ZUBELDIA Haimar RADIOSHACK-NISSAN + 02' 20'' 14 COSTA Rui Alberto MOVISTAR TEAM + 02' 22'' 15 BRAJKOVIC Janez ASTANA PRO TEAM + 02' 26'' 16 VOIGT Jens RADIOSHACK-NISSAN + 02' 44'' 17 WESTRA Lieuwe VACANSOLEIL-DCM + 02' 45'' 18 GALLOPIN Tony RADIOSHACK-NISSAN + 02' 46'' 19 ROY Jérémy FDJ-BIGMAT + 02' 52'' 20 COPPEL Jérôme SAUR-SOJASUN + 02' 54'' Last man home on Stage 9 178 ENGOULVENT Jimmy SAUR-SOJASUN + 11' 10'' General classification after Stage 9 1 WIGGINS Bradley SKY PROCYCLING 39h 09' 20'' 2 EVANS Cadel BMC RACING TEAM + 01' 53'' 3 FROOME Christopher SKY PROCYCLING + 02' 07'' 4 NIBALI Vincenzo LIQUIGAS-CANNONDALE + 02' 23'' 5 MENCHOV Denis KATUSHA TEAM + 03' 02'' 6 ZUBELDIA Haimar RADIOSHACK-NISSAN + 03' 19'' 7 MONFORT Maxime RADIOSHACK-NISSAN + 04' 23'' 8 VAN GARDEREN Tejay BMC RACING TEAM + 05' 14'' 9 VAN DEN BROECK Jurgen LOTTO-BELISOL TEAM + 05' 20'' 10 ROCHE Nicolas AG2R LA MONDIALE + 05' 29'' Points classification after Stage 9 1 SAGAN Peter LIQUIGAS-CANNONDALE 217 pts 2 GOSS Matthew ORICA GREENEDGE 185 pts 3 GREIPEL André LOTTO-BELISOL TEAM 172 pts 4 CAVENDISH Mark SKY PROCYCLING 129 pts 5 PETACCHI Alessandro LAMPRE - ISD 109 pts Mountains classification after Stage 9 1 KESSIAKOFF Fredrik ASTANA PRO TEAM 21 pts 2 FROOME Christopher SKY PROCYCLING 20 pts 3 EVANS Cadel BMC RACING TEAM 18 pts 4 PINOT Thibaut FDJ-BIGMAT 16 pts 5 WIGGINS Bradley SKY PROCYCLING 12 pts Best young rider's classification after Stage 9 1 VAN GARDEREN Tejay BMC RACING TEAM 39h 14' 34'' 2 TAARAMAE Rein COFIDIS LE CREDIT EN LIGNE + 00' 42'' 3 GALLOPIN Tony RADIOSHACK-NISSAN + 00' 45'' 4 PINOT Thibaut FDJ-BIGMAT + 03' 39'' 5 IZAGUIRRE Gorka EUSKALTEL - EUSKADI + 05' 11''
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.