Cycling: Wiggins seals Dauphiné triumph

 

Steady riding by Bradley Wiggins on the final stage of the Critérium du Dauphiné saw the Briton claim the biggest stage race of his 11-year road career – and reconfirm his status as a contender for the Tour de France.

On a short but intense day of mountain climbing in the Alps, Wiggins' Sky squad kept a tight control on affairs on the 22 km Croix de Fer colossus, and then Colombian team-mate Rigoberto Uran maintained a high pace on the La Toussuire ascent that followed almost immediately afterwards.

Uran's aim was to deter any late challenges by the Briton's overall rivals, and for two-thirds of a climb that dipped and swooped, Wiggins remained untroubled. However, with around five km to go a flurry of short, sharp digs by his most persistent attacker, Belgium's Jurgen van den Broeck, rapidly raised the tension levels in the leading pack of a dozen riders, including Wiggins.

The Briton, though, kept his cool, staying well to the rear, with a sheen of sweat across his face but never seeming close to cracking.

Van der Broeck's mini-attacks fizzled out as the stage developed into a fight for the podium spots, rather than a challenge the Briton, with Kazakh Alexandre Vinokourov – finally forced to settle for third overall – chasing down the Belgian, and assisting Wiggins.

In the final 800m, the pint-sized Joaquim Rodriguez, the winner of the Dauphiné's toughest mountain stage on Saturday, launched another attack that would ensure him back-to-back victories. But for Wiggins the hard work had been done, with the Briton raising his hands in triumph as he powered across the line in 10th.

A quick glance at the overall classification confirmed that even in the absence of top Tour contenders Alberto Contador and Andy Schleck, Wiggins can be more than satisfied with his achievement.

Putting Cadel Evans, twice second in the Tour de France, into second place at more than a minute in a race just eight days long is no mean achievement, while Vinokourov, third in the 2003 Tour and 2006 Tour of Spain winner, is another respected rival forced to cede to Wiggins' consistency.

However, above all Wiggins can be pleased with his own performance. The Sky leader's initial target was a repeat of the podium finish he took in Paris-Nice (France's second biggest stage race) this spring but he has clearly moved well beyond that. Next stop, the Tour.

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