'Race of truth' set to crown Wiggins champ
Bradley Wiggins could look to cap his imminently triumphant Tour de France campaign with victory in the penultimate stage time trial on Saturday.
While Sunday's final stage to Paris is traditionally reserved for a last shot at stage glory on the Champs Elysees, the final test of Wiggins's yellow jersey credentials comes on stage 19's 53.5 km race against the clock.
With a 2min 05sec lead on Sky teammate Chris Froome and 2:41 on Italian Vincenzo Nibali, Wiggins, barring catastrophe, will become Britain's first yellow jersey champion on Sunday.
But having seen Froome upstage him in the mountains, Wiggins said on Thursday: "In the mountains he's probably stronger. I'm not a pure climber, I'm more of a time triallist who can climb."
It was on stage nine's 41.5 km race against the clock that Wiggins, who had taken the yellow jersey two days earlier at La Planche des Filles in the Vosges, struck a first major blow to his rivals.
He crossed the line first, 35sec ahead of Froome and 57 ahead of four-time world and defending Olympic champion Fabian Cancellara. Cadel Evans, the defending champion, was sixth at 1:43.
For Evans' BMC team manager Jim Ochowicz, the 'race of truth' – so called because it is a good indicator of a rider's individual form – on stage nine was a revelation.
"The gap (to Wiggins and Froome) wasn't small... that created the separation," Ochowicz told AFP.
"The separation came in that first big time trial. That put us behind."
Evans and every other rival then failed to find a way past the steamroller that is Wiggins' Sky team in the race's mountain stages.
After the final day of climbing on stage 17 Thursday, the Englishman emerged feeling, for the first time, that victory may now be his.
"The moment we crossed the Peyresourde (climb), I allowed myself to drift and that was the first time I thought, 'Maybe I've won the Tour today,'" said Wiggins.
With a number of potential time trial rivals absent, Wiggins starts as the odds-on favourite for Saturday's 53.5 km test from Bonneval to Chartres.
Cancellara, having left the race early to be with his expectant wife, is now hard at training for the defence of his Olympic title.
Days later reigning world champion Tony Martin of Germany quit the race for the same reason, albeit with a broken wrist to try and heal.
French time trial champion Sylvain Chavanel, fifth on stage nine, also quit early due to injury.