Bradley Wiggins stands on the threshold of history. Sometime later today, he will reach the half-way point of the Tour de France, but already pundits are claiming he will wear the famous yellow jersey on the podium in Paris.
After his impressive time trial victory at Besançon, Wiggins is now one minute and fifty-three seconds clear of his nearest rival, Cadel Evans. The size of the gap has led some observers to declare that the race is over already. A correspondent for the French journal, Liberation, coined the phrase "done a Wiggins" in recognition of the achievement of apparently killing the race stone dead even before it has reached the Alps. Wiggins, himself said:
It's a dream situation to be in...
However, as Wiggins is well aware, he still has a mountain to climb, literally. Today's stage heads into the Jura, the gateway to the high mountains. This is where his rivals will have to attack, if they are to close the gap. And this is just what Wiggins and his team expect. They know they will have to fight for every second over the next week and a half.
Wiggins' expertise is in the time trial. He is a former Olympic champion of the pursuit. But climbing mountains requires a very different type of cyclist. This is what marks out the major tour winners as great cyclists: they cannot just excel at one discipline; they have to be good at everything. In the past, the mountains have proved to be Wiggins undoing. In 2010, for instance, he finished a poor 24th precisely because of an inability to deal with the challenge of the mountain stages. As Shane Sutton, Wiggins coach, told the BBC:
When Brad had a bad time in the 2010 Tour, I think he realised he hadn't trained properly for the event. If you look back at it, he cracked at around 1,500-2,000m every time on the big climbs.
Since the disappointment of the 2010 Tour, Wiggins has been working with sports scientist, Tim Kerrison. Wiggins told the London Evening Standard:
Tim's the brains. He's changed my career, totally.
If Wiggins can maintain his lead, or not lose too much time, in the mountains, he is set to make history and become the first British cyclist to win the Tour de France.