Cycling: Wiggins warms up with podium place

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Consistent if unspectacular racing by Bradley Wiggins in Spain's Tour of Murcia enabled him to capture third place, the strongest indication yet that the Londoner is on track for the Tour de France and left Sky team officials convinced that Wiggins' first podium finish of 2010 indicates slow but steady progress towards July.

"Bradley put himself on the line for the win but this is a process and one that's coming together well," team road coach Rod Ellingworth said. "He's getting increasingly consistent, and rode strongly in the mountains."

Murcia is the only race where Wiggins took on key Tour de France rival Lance Armstrong prior to July's showdown and the Briton will have no complaints that in Saturday's decisive time trial he finished 30 seconds faster than the American.

While HTC-Columbia leader Frantisek Rabon – as Armstrong put it in his Twitter feed, he "smoked the time trial, very impressive" – took both the stage and, ultimately, the overall classification, Wiggins finished fifth, 48 seconds behind Rabon but three places higher than Armstrong.

The American was by no means elated by finishing a lowly eighth. "He's neither happy nor unhappy," insisted a team spokesman.

Both Wiggins and Armstrong will be keeping a close eye on how the favourite for the Tour de France, Alberto Contador, fares in the prestigious Paris-Nice stage race this week.

In yesterday's short opening prologue, Contador finished a solid fourth and is very much in contention for overall victory.