At this point in the Tour de France, the sense is that while the Tour is far from over, the main thing that would prevent Bradley Wiggins from winning in Paris is Bradley Wiggins.
Yes, there are two summit finishes and some tricky descents where Cadel Evans (1:43 behind) and Vincenzo Nibali (2:08 back) can attack but most scenarios on them taking the final maillot jaune are based on Wiggins doing something wrong.
Essentially, the story is that Wiggins has a bad day or a crash or makes a tactical mistake or physically wears down in the final week or simply cracks mentally from the intensity of the Tour media pressures and even the pressure of his own teammate Chris Froome — who is also capable of winning Le Grand Shindig.
Of all the Wiggins Fails possibilities, Twisted Spoke only puts weight on the bad day and mental crack arguments. Everybody from Lance Armstrong on down has had a bad day in Le Tour (Lance hid his well). The human body isn’t a machine despite the many brilliant discoveries in sports science and all the recovery tricks at Team Sky’s disposal. It’s not much of a hope for Evans and Nibali but they’ll be watching Wiggins closely for any sign of momentary weakness.
The Mental Crack theory also has some validity to it. But that depends on how you read Wiggins’ obscenity laced press conference. Is he so confident that he can just hold court and blow off steam or is that the kind of mental irritation that only gets worse over the next two weeks? Personally if a guy can win Paris-Nice, the Dauphine and Romandie this year, that’s one confident man. Now, the great Sean Kelly thinks Wiggins is mentally “fragile” but we think that’s the Brad of two years ago. The man was won Olympic Gold and finished on the podium of the Vuelta. He’s also got a team and Sky staff that will do everything to support and protect him. Will the pressure get to him? That’s a real maybe.
The Wear Down factor. Some critics like to throw out that Wiggins is a great one week stage racer but hasn’t truly proved he can handle the stress and strain of three weeks in a grand tour. His performance in the Vuelta last year answered that question for us. However — as people never stop saying — Le Tour is Le Tour, a unique and nasty torture that nothing else can match. Which brings us to the corollary — the belief that perhaps Wiggins can’t handle the long, massive climbs and grades in the Alps. Wiggins has made a point of saving they’re “trained for that” and that this is no longer a weakness. The team strength of Sky is such that he’ll have abundant support — far more than Evans or Nibali.
The Froome Problem.
If you buy into Sean Kelley’s “mentally fragile” opinion, then having Froome in the same team could be cause for trouble. Froome is on fire, he’s won a stage, he finished second in the time trial and is in third overall two minutes back. He is a definite and decisive plan B. However Sky has made it abundantly clear they will sacrifice Froome and a second podium position to make sure Wiggins wins. There was a lot of noise before the Tour about the Sky juggling act with Wiggins and Cavendish. Sky made the hard decision to focus the team on Wiggins. That proves they mean business and Froome will be Wiggins’ super mountain domestique.
The Tactical Faux Pedal
Things change fast in Le Tour — a crash, windy conditions, wet roads, a puncture, a spectator who insists on standing in the middle of the road with a camera and bottle of red wine. You never know what can happen in the chaos and craziness of the Tour. That said, what team has spent more time and resources in preparing for every day and every possible scenario and outcome in this race? Sky are ready for whatever happens and it’s an experienced, tight knit crew with massive firepower. With Froome, Porte and Rogers, Wiggins is ready to deal with whatever the road or the race throws at him. Sean Yates and David Brailsford are experienced and steady hands. Chance of tactical error: almost nil.
From here at Twisted Spoke headquarters in Northern California, it’s hard to imagine that Evans makes up two minutes and takes another two minutes so he has a buffer for the final time trial. Evans will attack until the bitter end we’d like to believe he’ll close the gap enough to keep this race close. Wiggins may also have a day where he falters but given his team strength, they’ll pull him through and limit the loss. But the only way Evans repeats is if Wiggins has a true jour sans or drops his chain. Will Evans wait?