Chris Boardman: Bradley's Tour tilt shows that hard work pays off

 

I can't think of an area where Bradley Wiggins hasn't improved in the last four years. Physically, his weight is down to an absolute minimum in terms of staying healthy and from a tactical point of view he has got better and better. He's still learning in one sense, though, because you can't crack the Tour de France unless you are racing to win it; you have to learn to keep control and use your troops wisely. He's working on that.

Part of that learning process was in place after the Tour of Spain last year, when Bradley finished third having led for almost a week. I think it brought home to him and the team that he could win a major Tour. He and Sky identified areas that meant they could close that gap between third and first. And that degree of self-belief is critical. It takes athletes to another level of commitment that they did not know existed. Bradley has referred to that several times this year. To be so high up in a major Tour might not have been possible otherwise.

Regardless of what happens between here and Paris, he is proving to himself that everything he is doing is paying off. The relief and delight on Bradley's face when he took the yellow jersey and the stage win, and performed so well on that first mountain stage, was clear. As I know from the Olympics, no matter how well you perform you're thinking: "This doesn't happen to me, it happens to other people on the telly". You don't really believe it's going to happen until it does. Only when it happens do you think it's real.

Having the same people that he's had in Team GB in the Olympics and World Track Championships at Sky is beneficial. He has been able to grow with a group of people he trusts and he has been able to add on people like Tim Kerrison [trainer] and Sean Yates [sports director and one-time Tour de France leader]. Having that stable base has enabled him to improve. It's not as if he had to deal with a new set of people in a new pro team. He hasn't started from scratch.

Furthermore, if you don't start your season on the front foot – like Bradley did, winning races from the spring onwards – it's hard to get back on track. We've seen that with [2011 Tour de France winner] Cadel Evans. He's slightly heavier, slightly bulkier and I don't think, after a rough start to the season, that he has been the man he was.

Every race Bradley has ridden this year, he has had a mission to win, not just to be there for training. He has trained himself to deal with the pressure of having that objective of victory. It has been an interesting approach and it hasn't taken the edge off his ability to be a leader. He has interspersed that with time at home or training so he's come to the Tour with 20-odd days of racing, all full-on.

It is, to a degree, what Lance Armstrong used to do in his first half of the season, a "ride a race and disappear" strategy with no training races. Wiggins has applied it more intensively than I've ever seen before.

We should also consider his Olympic and World Championships record. Being able to ride a time trial so intensively comes from experiences like the Olympics, where you've got four-and-a-half minutes to get four years of work absolutely right. He's not alone in that: Evans, [Vincenzo] Nibali and [triple stage winner] Peter Sagan have a lot of bike-handling skills from their mountain biking past.

Whatever happens between now and Paris, this Tour de France is a landmark. At one point we had a Briton [Chris Froome] in the King of the Mountains jersey, a Briton in the yellow jersey and a Briton in the world champion's jersey [Mark Cavendish].

"Unprecedented", ironically, is becoming a standard word.

After retiring from racing in 2000, Chris Boardman now produces and designs his own bikes

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