The road to victory: How Team Sky propelled Bradley Wiggins to Tour de France victory
We look at the key moments and stages that shaped the first British victory in cycling's biggest race
Bradley Wiggins has today become the first British cyclist to win the Tour de France in its 109-year history. The 32-year-old’s victory is the result of 12 months’ planning by Team Sky after he crashed out of the 2011 race with a broken collarbone. That plan still needed to be executed on the road, however, and Wiggins and his team mates did it near perfectly. We look at the key stages that took him to victory.
Saturday 30 June
Liège (6.4 kilometres)
Posting the second quickest time behind RadioShack-Nissan’s Fabian Cancellara, Wiggins gained vital time on the two men seen as his principal rivals for the overall win, 17 seconds on defending champion Cadel Evans of BMC Racing and 18 seconds on Liquigas Cannondale’s Vincenzo Nibali. Had Wiggins gone eight seconds quicker, he could have taken the maillot jaune and potentially worn it from start to finish. That would have meant an extra week of post-stage press conferences, however, a distraction he didn’t need during what proved to be a nervous opening week of the race.
Sunday 1 July
Liège- Seraing (198km)
In terms of the final positions on GC, today was crucial not for anything that happened to Wiggins or his rivals from other teams, but for the puncture suffered by Chris Froome inside the closing final kilometres ahead of a tough final climb. If Froome had not lost the best part of two minutes to his team mate, the dynamics of the race would have been very different – with the biggest prize in cycling in his sights and a margin of mere seconds between them, would he have been able to resist attacking his fellow Team Sky rider when the opportunities presented themselves in the mountains?
Friday 6 July
The misfortune of being in the wrong place at the wrong time cost Wiggins dear when a crash on an innocuous stretch of road saw him break his collarbone during on the first Friday of last year’s Tour. Today, he was safely near the front of the bunch when what several riders described as the worst crash they’d ever seen took out a sizeable chunk of the peloton 25 kilometres out. Wiggins had twice been held up in crashes earlier in this year’s race, but both happened inside the closing 3 kilometres, meaning no time could be lost. Giro d’Italia winner Ryder Hesjedal, seen as a potential challenger for the podium here, wasn’t so lucky – the crash ended his race.
Saturday 7 July
Tomblaine-La Planche des Belles Filles (199km)
Today was always going to see the first big shake-up on GC with a tough final climb never before used in the Tour. The smart money was on an attacking climber to win, but Team Sky had done their homework and it paid off handsomely, Froome taking the stage and Wiggins the maillot jaune, only Evans, Nibali and Cofidis rider Rein Taaramae able to stay with them by the end. It was a phenomenal show of the team’s strength in depth in the mountains, and one that is bound to have had a psychological impact on Wiggins’ rivals, even if they wouldn’t admit it publicly.
Monday 9 July
Arc-et-Senans-Besancon (41.5km ITT)
The race wasn’t quite at its halfway point, but if you had to pick one day when the 2012 Tour de France was won and lost, it’s this one. Wiggins and Froome simply blew the opposition apart, including four-time world time trial champion Fabian Cancellara. By the end of the day, Wiggins would lie nearly two minutes ahead of Evans on GC, while Froome would leapfrog Nibali into third place overall. The toughness of the course took many riders by surprise, but not Team Sky who’d ridden it earlier in the year.
Thursday 12 July
A day of drama in the Alps as Nibali twice attacked Wiggins and Froome and failed to shake them off – the big talking point, indeed, was whether the latter had attacked his team mate in the maillot jaune, giving rise to a tetchy exchange of tweets between the two Team Sky riders’ partners. Meanwhile a below-par Evans got dropped and by the end of the stage it was an unprecedented British one-two on GC.
Sunday 15 July
Team Sky had prevented any attacks on the tough climb of the Mur de Péguère but 2011 winner Evans was in trouble again as he was stranded following a puncture on the summit. As it became evident that the route had become sabotaged with carpet tacks scattered on the road, Wiggins led his team mates in neutralising the main group. No movement at the top of the GC, but the gesture helped Wiggins seal the hearts and minds of the French press and public, already charmed by his off-the-wall humour and command of their language.
Wednesday 18 July
Pau – Bagneres-de-Luchon (215km)
The first of two big stages in the Pyrenees that represented the last chance for anyone to get time back on the Team Sky pair at the top of the overall standings. With Tomas Voeckler on his way to the stage win, back in the GC group Nibali went for it on the Col d’Aspin and only two riders could go with him; unfortunately for the Sicilian, they were Wiggins and Froome. Evans again had a torrid day, losing more time as a result of a stomach upset that would plague him throughout the final week as his title slipped away.
Thursday 19 July
While Alejandro Valverde of Movistar was heading to a solo stage win, Nibali’s Liquigas-Cannondale team took the initiative back in the maillot jaune group, Ivan Basso setting the Sicilian up to attack on the final climb. Again, Wiggins and Froome were able to respond, and this time they distanced their closest rival, the race leader overcome by emotion as he headed over the final climb knowing he was on his way to making history. Inside the final kilometres, Froome looked stronger, some arguing he showed disrespect to the maillot jaune as he looked back and gestured at Wiggins; other believed that Team Sky had issued orders preventing him from trying to go for the stage win. In finishing second and third on the stage, the pair were a step closer to a British one-two in Paris, however.
Saturday 21 July
By now, the question was less whether Bradley Wiggins would become the first British winner of the Tour de France, but by how much? The answer to that was 3 minutes 21 seconds as the maillot jaune completed the course quickest, 1 minute 16 seconds ahead of Froome who himself sealed a convincing second place overall, nearly 3 minutes ahead of Nibali. Wiggins and Froome, of course, would safely get through Sunday’s stage in Paris. It wouldn’t affect the overall, but there was still time for Team Sky to get their third stage win in three days, and their sixth of the race, as Cavendish took his fourth consecutive win on the Champs-Elysees.