Tour de France: Even Bradley Wiggins finally accepts he's in touching distance of triumph

Emotional Londoner virtually guaranteed to be the first Briton to win Tour crown in 108 years

Peyragudes

Bradley Wiggins' and Chris Froome's grip on the top two spots of the Tour de France tightened conclusively yesterday as the Sky team-mates dropped their most dangerous rival, Vincenzo Nibali, near the top of the 2012 race's final summit finish, thus virtually guaranteeing Great Britain's first ever outright Tour victory in 108 years.

Briefly losing contact with Froome within a few kilometres of the finish, the 32-year-old Wiggins said that he had dropped behind his team-mate because he was so overcome with pure emotion at the thought of what almost certainly awaits him in Paris in three days' time. "My concentration had gone, I knew it [the race] was pretty much over, for the first time in the whole race I thought I might have won the Tour," Wiggins said.

"When we rode away from Nibali and got to the last part... there were tears in my eyes as the realisation that the hard climbing was over sank in.

"All the fight in me just went out of the window. I was thinking of so many things; I allowed myself to drift."

Only the stage win, which was taken by Spain's Alejandro Valverde, remained outside the Britons' clutches as Froome, again showing he is the stronger climber of the two Sky leaders – a point that Wiggins conceded – slowed and glanced back repeatedly to ensure that the Londoner had all the support he needed to protect his top spot overall and was not in any danger of losing contact for good.

With his dream of winning the Tour now just a few days away from becoming reality, Wiggins said it was difficult on the ascent of the Peyragudes to stay on track mentally.

"Chris was egging me on, but I said to myself, 'That's the climbing done.' I'm not a born climber, I'm a time-triallist who can limit the gaps there. We knew Nibali was nailed, but I was in another world."

Finally, Wiggins seemed to resurface from his own thoughts and, for the last few kilometres, Froome faithfully fulfilled team orders and shepherded his leader to the line. Second just 20 seconds behind Valverde, Froome crossed the finish line with an emphatic nod, as if to say "job done", while Wiggins, in third, grinned from ear to ear as the prospect of becoming Britain's first Tour winner looms ever larger on the horizon.

Nibali's time loss of 18 seconds on the Briton as he crossed the line in seventh place was comparatively minor, and the Italian will almost certainly remain in third overall.

However, with no mountains left, any chance of the Liquigas rider winning the Tour is all but non-existent, and what was the last threat to Wiggins' yellow jersey, barring a crash or sudden illness, has now evaporated.

Although speculation will linger over what might have happened if Froome had been on another team, or if Alberto Contador and Andy Schleck – the two riders who have dominated stage racing for the past three years – had taken part in the 2012 race, Wiggins nevertheless brushed the issues aside. With Froome by his side as a team-mate – "it was one last thing to worry about" – and ultimately, he argued, it was irrelevant who else was present.

"My name will be on that list and that is all that matters. You can only beat who's turned up. Andy's had a lot of problems, other riders are out for other reasons," he said.

"Everybody has had to make sacrifices, Mark Cavendish has made them every day, and that's our job," Froome added when asked how hard it had been to work for Wiggins, rather than race for himself when perhaps he will never again have such a good chance to win the Tour. "It's difficult, but if you had told me I'd finish second in the Tour, I'd never have believed it."

Dave Brailsford, the team principal, ducked a question by French TV, though, over whether Sky's plan was to win the Tour with Wiggins rather than with Froome: "We have got the yellow jersey and done a great team job," he said.

On one of the toughest mountain stages of the race, not even Sky could be guaranteed a completely trouble-free ride, with Cavendish reporting that he had crashed at 3km from the finish line after a fan's flag wrapped in his handlebars. The world champion could complete the race, albeit second last and with his legs swollen from the impact of the fall.

After today's long, but probably very uneventful grind up through central France, all that remains for the two Sky riders is Saturday's 53 km time trial. Given Wiggins won the opening time trial in Besançon and Froome finished second, it would take a brave person to bet against the two Sky riders now.

Suggested Topics
News
Ian Thorpe had Rio 2016 in his sights
people
Sport
Jonathan de Guzman of the Netherlands and Willian of Brazil compete for the ball
world cup 2014LIVE BLOG: Hosts Brazil take on the Netherlands in third-place play-off
News
Tommy Ramone performing at The Old Waldorf Nightclub in 1978 in San Francisco, California.
peopleDrummer Tommy was last surviving member of seminal band
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Several male celebrities have confessed to being on a diet, including, from left to right, Hugh Grant, Benedict Cumberbatch and Ryan Reynolds
life...and the weight loss industry is rubbing its hands in glee
Voices
Spectators photograph the Tour de France riders as they make their way through the Yorkshire countryside
voicesHoward Jacobson: Line the streets for a cycling race? You might just as well watch a swarm of wasps
Life and Style
lifeHere's one answer to an inquisitive Reddit user's question
Arts and Entertainment
'Eminem's recovery from substance abuse has made him a more potent performer, with physical charisma and energy he never had before'
arts + entsReview: Wembley Stadium ***
Sport
Joe Root and James Anderson celebrate their record-beaking partnership
cricketEngland's last-wicket stand against India rewrites the history books
News
peopleDave Legeno, the actor who played werewolf Fenrir Greyback in the Harry Potter films, has died
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily World Cup Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, Accreditation, ITIL)

£70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, A...

C# Developer (HTML5, JavaScript, ASP.NET, Mathematics, Entity)

£30000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

C# Integration Developer (.NET, Tibco EMS, SQL 2008/2012, XML)

£60000 - £80000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Integration...

Biztalk - outstanding opportunity

£75000 - £85000 per annum + ex bens: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: Biztalk Te...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice