Cycling: Wiggins in pole position to reach road milestone
Bradley Wiggins will battle for his biggest road victory today, when he has an excellent chance of becoming Britain's first winner of the hugely prestigious Paris-Nice stage race in nearly half a century.
The last hurdle between Wiggins and victory in the race dubbed the "mini-Tour de France" is today's 9.8 kilometre individual uphill time trial, running from the grimy outer suburbs of Nice, at near sea level, to the summit of the Col D'Eze, 1,500 feet higher.
The 31-year-old Team Sky leader has a minimal advantage in the overall classification, just six seconds on Lieuwe Westra of Holland and 18 seconds on Spain's Alejandro Valverde. Like Wiggins, the Dutchman is also a gifted time triallist, and Valverde cannot be ruled out either, but Wiggins has kept a tight grip on the race for the last six days, and there is every chance he will do so again today.
Already a triple Olympic gold medallist on the track, a Paris-Nice victory would be a major landmark in Wiggins' career on the road. For many, it would outshine other high points like his Critérium du Dauphiné stage race win last June – his previous most important step up the ladder of week-long stage racing – or even his Giro d'Italia prologue win in 2010.
Donning the final yellow jersey in Paris-Nice would also firmly establish Wiggins as Britain's leading stage racer, in terms of capturing the overall classification, in the last two decades. First Chris Boardman, the winner of three Tour prologues and third in Paris-Nice in 1995, and then David Millar have taken stage wins in all three Grand Tours and shone in week-long events like Paris-Nice and the Critérium Du Dauphiné. And, of course, Mark Cavendish is on his way to becoming cycling's greatest ever sprinter.
However, when it comes to the overall classification only Robert Millar in the 1980s – whose fourth place in the Tour de France, the best result ever for a Briton which Wiggins equalled in 2009 – has a more impressive track record. And Wiggins, as he has demonstrated all this week, is far from reaching his limit.
Yesterday's 219km stage, won by Belgium's Thomas De Gendt was incident-free for Wiggins, who finished safely in the main pack. One of the Sky rider's rivals, American Levi Leipheimer, could not say the same, crashing three times and losing all option of winning the event outright.
If Wiggins is looking for inspiration as he grinds up the switchback of hairpins to the summit of Col D'Eze, there is a strong chance Wiggins will have Tom Simpson, the last British winner of Paris-Nice, in 1967, in mind. In 2009, when Wiggins rode up the Mont Ventoux en route to fourth in Paris, he had a picture of Simpson glued to his bike frame, saying the night before: "I know Tom will be watching over me." Paris-Nice was Simpson's last great victory before he died, and for Wiggins to attempt to follow in the Briton's ghostly wheeltracks nearly half a century later is a challenge he is sure to relish.
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