Tour de France: Can Wiggins take it to the next stage?
Bradley Wiggins has proved he has solid Tour de France form, with three major stage-race wins this season at Paris-Nice, the Tour de Romandie and the Critérium du Dauphiné, writes Alasdair Fotheringham. So what are his next 10 steps to Tour glory, Britain's first-ever podium finish – and perhaps the yellow jersey?
Stay near the front
Wiggins admitted that drifting out of the front places during the Tour's fraught first week of crashes and bunch sprints was his biggest mistake last year. He was well to the rear when he came down and broke his collarbone.
The Planche des Belles Filles is the steepest single-summit finish and it comes early this year, on stage seven. Rearing up like a side of a house for 5.9km, this kind of finale, with sudden uphill accelerations where positioning is crucial, is one of Wiggins's weakest suits. It's one of arch-rival Cadel Evans's strongest.
The knock-out blow?
As a time trial specialist, Wiggins's first big chance to inflict damage is at stage nine's Besançon/Arc-et-Senans time trial. If he performs like his idol Miguel Indurain in Luxembourg's 1992 time trial, it could be where Wiggins takes an impregnable advantage.
It has been proven that the Tour is won and lost off the bike, and the riders' recovery starts the moment they finish. Sky have taken this to a new level with special mattresses and mood music and lighting for the team bus.
Beware of ambushes
Two thirds of the way through stage 10's trek through the Jura mountain range is the 17.4km Col du Grand Colombier, a climb that has never been tackled in the Tour before. It's a chance for the mountain specialists to ambush all-rounders such as Wiggins.
Make the running
The biggest Alpine stage of the Tour culminates with an 18.5km ascent to La Toussuire ski station. Wiggins knows this climb well, it's where he defended his lead in the Critérium du Dauphiné in 2011 – his first major stage-race victory.
Mind the gap
Cadel Evans has already managed to drop Wiggins on a Tour-like descent this year, off Joux Plane in the Critérium. The champion will test the Briton's technical ability on one or two plummeting drops in the Alps and Pyrenees.
Jokers in the pack
In recent years every Grand Tour has seen outsiders make a serious challenge – Ryder Hesjedal and Thomas de Gendt in the 2012 Tour of Italy (first and third), Chris Froome in the 2011 Tour of Spain (second) and Thomas Voeckler in the 2011 Tour de France (fourth).
Team Sky on a high
There is strength in depth with climbers such as Froome, Richie Porte and Kanstantsin Siutsou as Wiggins's key wingmen for the mountains, not to mention all-rounder Edvald Boasson Hagen. World champion Mark Cavendish merely adds to a top-class mix.
Crunch Time: Stage 19
The Bonneval–Chartres 53km time trial is the final overall challenge, and for Wiggins the most important. If he's behind the mountain riders he can expect to regain two or three minutes and snatch yellow, just as Cadel Evans did last year against Andy Schleck.
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