Saturday, 21 July 2012

Tour de France TT: One Battle Remains - Wiggins V Froome

So, barring any catastrophic accident, the General Classification is likely to remain unchanged. In fact the Podium has probably been decided. Bradley Wiggins has become Britain's first ever Tour de France winner and he will be looking to stamp his authority on this race one last time before riding to glory on the Champs-Elysees in Paris tomorrow. One battle, however, remains and it comes in the form of team-mate Christopher Froome...

The Tour, traditionally has a final time trial and it traditionally involves some form of climb. This year is different. Take a look at the profile above and you will see 53.5km's of relatively flat road through a region exposed to strong winds - it's clear that this TT is one for the specialists. It will take power, efficiency and determination to put in a good time here, there is no steep section for the climbers of this race to hide behind and gain time on. Basically this route could not suit Bradley Wiggins more if he had designed it himself. Things are not always as simple as they first appear though.

Christopher Froome may be 2 minutes behind Bradley Wiggins in the General Classification, but most of this time gap was created when Froome suffered a mechanical earlier in the race. On the Stage 9 41km Time Trial Froome only lost 35 seconds to Wiggins, rolling in second overall. Froome is obviously a good time trialist in his own right and with margins like this the press have been asking some awkward questions.

Whilst Wiggins has the edge in the Time Trial, critics have pointed to the fact that though Froome lost 35 seconds to Wiggins in the Time Trial, on current form he could probably take a whole chunk of time out of Bradley Wiggins on a steep climb, if of course he was allowed off the team leash and went all out attack. Undoubtedly Froome has looked strong on the climbs and has bared all in the press without mincing his words, he even went so far as to say that he could have won this Tour had he not had to look after Brad. A mini-drama developed as Froome began to look less dedicated to the Sky/Wiggins cause, he put in a suspicious dig and rode away from Wiggins in the alps, eventually blaming a 'miscommunication' via his race radio. On the final day in the Pyrenees Christopher Froome came close to embarrassing Wiggins as he rode a bike length away from the front of Wiggins on the final climb, even motioning with his hands for Wiggins to keep up and constantly looking over his shoulder in a dramatic fashion that led to all sorts of speculation: should Froome have attacked? Should he have been allowed to go and win the stage? Was he telling Brad to hurry up or was it something else? Was he egging him on like a good team-mate should? We probably never will find out for certain, but what we do know is that both now have an axe to grind.

Froome, frustrated at his lack of chances, his constant holding back to help Wiggins as a domestique will likely be out to make a statement today. He can beat Wiggins on the climbs, can he take time out of him in a time trial as well? Could he have won the Tour? Is he a team leader? He will be looking to do so and show that he was strongest, show that he really is the whole package.

Wiggins will in return want to take time out of Froome. He can just about stick with Froome in the mountains and if he can prove he's miles ahead of Froome in a time trial then the world will know that he is a deserving winner, there will not be any questions left to ask - after all everybody wants to see the best man win, what would be the point of Wiggins winning the tour knowing that Froome was stronger? knowing that the press, the fans, the world knew that Froome was stronger. Wiggins will definitely not want that to happen and though the General Classification is sewn up to such an extent that he could quite probably dordle to the finish line Wiggins will be putting in maximum effort here. He wants the stage win, and deep down he wants to destroy Froome.

OK, an exaggeration maybe, but the situation makes for a good finale in what has been a not so exciting Tour de France and aside from that it really will be interesting to see what the difference is between the two riders. Lets not forget this is a 53.5km TT in the third week of a grand Tour - a very different prospect to that of a 41km TT in the first week. It's often cited that the third week time trial is far less about skill, style and efficiency and much more about simply just who has the legs, who is not tired, who can drag their sorry, weary, wrecked body to the finish the quickest. Wiggins has had a busy season, riding out the winner of three stage races prior to the Tour, he's bound to feel some effect of this. In contrast Froome had a relatively quiet start to the season thanks in large to illness and is only now really reaching peak form.

Today I just want to see an end to the Wiggins/Froome saga. I want the press to have their answers, whatever those answers may be. I want the fans to know if the best man won, I want the arguments to stop, the divisions to end. I want to see who really is the 'better' rider in this Tour, but most of all, I hope today's time trial brings closure to the twitter soap opera that is Cath Wiggins v Michelle Cound...

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