2012 Tour de France Contenders: Bradley Wiggins

Bradley Wiggins is the favorite of the 2012 Tour de France. Those words uttered as little as five years ago would have drawn a few giggles and maybe a polite nod. He’s a track guy. He’s a time trial genius, sure, but he can’t climb. Stock denials of the Briton with the most ability from any rider from the rainy island in the history of the sport. Then, he finished 4th in the Tour de France in 2009, and everything changed.

Bradley Wiggins is a track guy. He’s the product of the world’s best track program (see: Mark Cavendish, Geraint Thomas, Ben Swift, Alex Dowsett) and was one of the top individual pursuit riders before his attention turned to the road. He’s won more gold medals on the track than we have time to recount, including 3 in the 2008 World Championships and two at the 2008 Bejing Olympics. Not a bad haul for the second most famous rider on the Great Britain squad behind the already established start of Mark Cavendish. Wiggins ended up joining Cavendish on HTC-Highroad before switching over to Garmin in 2009. He took of six kilos, about 13 pounds, before hitting the 2009 Tour de France. In a race with both Schlecks, Alberto Contador, Lance Armstrong and Andreas Kloden riding away from everyone on the climbs, it was the surprisingly twiggy Bradley Wiggins tacked onto the back over the top of every summit. He ended up fourth, and the British nearly lost their minds.

Attention to the sport increased, and Sky came forward as a sponsor. The goal was to make an as-British-as-possible squad with Bradley Wiggins as the GC leader. It all fell into place, with Wiggins stepping out of his role at Garmin. The Tour was the target, and the result was disappointing. 24th place and effectively out of the race in the middle of the second week. As high as the expectations were, the reality was dirt floor low. Wiggins’ hung his hat on defending his British time trial championship, but the hopes were squarely on the Tour.

2011 wasn’t much better. On just the 8th stage, Wiggins crashed out with a broken collarbone. He joined a long list of GC men knocked out, including Janez Brajkovic, Levi Leipheimer, Alexander Vinokourov and a slew of others. Sky picked up Mark Cavendish in the off-season, and their 2012 campaign is a whole new look. First, they’ll have to protect Wiggins while offering up Edvald Boason-Hagan and Bernie Eisel as Mark’s sole leadout train. Some say giving Wiggins just five dedicated riders won’t be enough, even if those include Richie Porte and 2011 Vuelta winner Chris Froome, not to mention the on-form Mick Rogers. But with Wiggins’ spring success, that should be plenty. He’s won the stage race tremble with huge wins at Paris-Nice, the Tour of Romandie and the Criterium du Dauphine.

Wiggins’ time trial abilities are arguably the best in the world, with his rivals in the discipline Tony Martin and Fabian Cancellara lacking a background of Tour overall success. Cadel Evans is probably the best TT man, but Wiggins has been faster more consistently. Wiggins’ climbing is not as explosive as Frank Schleck’s, but the Luxembourger’s never been known to attack and the RadioShack-Nissan team is in complete disarray. He’s the favorite with the team and the pressure, and with no Alberto Contador, he’ll bear the burden of marked man.

The Tour starts June 30th in Liege, Belgium.

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