The Tour de France leader, Bradley Wiggins, stormed out of a press conference in a fury yesterday after being asked what his reaction was to anonymous members of the Twittersphere who claimed it was impossible to win the race without being doped.
"I'd say they are just f***ing w***ers," was Wiggins' impassioned response. "I can't be dealing with people like that, it justifies their own bone idleness. Rather than getting off their a***s and doing something with their lives it's easier for them to sit underneath a pseudonym on Twitter and write that sort of s**t..." Wiggins then got up and walked out, bringing an abrupt end to proceedings.
A committed anti-doper, Wiggins has faced such suspicions before, and then as now he has met them head on. In 2009, when asked what some would think of his outstanding – but unexpected – fourth place overall, his response was that he knew there would be whispers and unfounded claims that he was taking drugs, but that he was racing clean.
"I came from nowhere on the Tour and everybody knows where it [the Tour] has been with blood doping," Wiggins said in 2009. "I don't want there to be any suspicion or doubt that what I did was natural. I have nothing to hide and I want this transparency." He then put his blood values from the UCI's biological passport programme – the most sophisticated anti-doping system out there – online to prove his point.
If Wiggins' anger at such comments by faceless critics still persists, his rather more visible rivals on the bike also made it clear that they have no intention of letting the Briton have it easy en route to Paris as the Tour leader was forced to close down a dangerous late move by his arch-rival Cadel Evans.
While the host nation was still celebrating its first stage win of the 2012 Tour – albeit on foreign terrain, in the Swiss frontier town of Porrentruy – thanks to a solo attack by Thibaut Pinot, the youngest rider in the race, less than 30 seconds behind him Evans opened up the throttle alongside the ever-active Belgian overall contender Jurgen Van Den Broeck.
Wiggins and the one Sky rider remaining with him, all-rounder Chris Froome, managed to close the gap with some assistance from the RadioShack squad – but Evans' move was a timely reminder, after all the euphoria of Wiggins taking the lead on Saturday, that the race is far from over.
For most of the short, punchy stage over no fewer than seven middle-sized climbs in the Jura region, Wiggins and the Sky team had kept a solid grip on the race. Breakaway riders such as Thibaut, part of a group of 15 who sheered off the front mid-stage, represented no major threat, and the Briton looked at ease behind a line of three or four blue-clad colleagues.
But a major acceleration by Belgium's Van Den Broeck close to the summit shredded the field, and although Sky's presence in the lead group was reduced to just himself and Froome, Wiggins responded well.
"It was a tough day out there but it was good, a bit like being in a junior race," Wiggins said. "Everybody was attacking; that's what it's all about. I'm not surprised by anything in this Tour; I expect everything and anything to happen."
If yesterday can ultimately be written off as skirmishing, today's 41.5km (26-mile) time trial between Arc-et- Senans and Besançon is another story altogether. For a specialist such as Wiggins, after Saturday's triumph it represents his best opportunity prior to the final time trial outside Paris to open up a major gap on his rivals and consolidate his lead.
"We're in a good position; everybody will be in the same boat, but we're at the head of it," Wiggins said.
While Wiggins' performance will be the main centre of focus today, attention should also be paid to Saturday's stage winner Froome.
Wiggins' team-mate is also a gifted time trialist and, for all he has renounced all personal goals in the race in order to help ensure Wiggins claims the overall victory, the Kenyan-born, British-registered Froome is sixth overall and will almost certainly make an all-out effort in today's time trial.
The one comparable previous time trial in a Grand Tour when Froome and Wiggins went shoulder to shoulder in a race against the clock was in the Tour of Spain last year. Froome – who eventually emerged as the stronger of the two Sky team-mates – beat Wiggins into third place, albeit by a mere 23 seconds.
"It's always possible [he could go faster again]," Wiggins said afterwards. "You've got to have the legs and last year [in the Tour of Spain] I started the time trial way too fast. It [being defeated by Froome] could happen again. But I just have to concentrate on my ride and see what happens.
"How important is the time trial? That remains to be seen. Every stage is important, but the time trial is irrelevant unless you've got through the previous seven or eight days. It's another stage and everybody will be giving it their all."
Since then Wiggins – third in the Tour of Spain behind Froome – has made huge strides in his climbing, but his time trialling has got no worse. Indeed, in June Froome was among those who lost large amounts of time to the triumphant Londoner in the Critérium du Dauphiné's race against the clock.
Since then, though, Froome's form has improved, and in today's time trial there is far more at stake – perhaps a whole Tour de France.
Results & standings
Stage seven (Tomblaine-La Planche des Belles Filles, 199km): 1 C Froome (GB) Sky Procycling 4hrs 58mins 35secs, 2 C Evans (Aus) BMC Racing Team at 0.02, 3 B Wiggins (GB) Sky Procycling at same time, 4 V Nibali (It) Liquigas-Cannondale at 0.07, 5 R Taaramae (Est) Cofidis, Le Crédit En Ligne at 0.19, 6 H Zubeldia Agirre (Sp) RadioShack-Nissan at 0.44, 7 P Rolland (Fr) Team Europcar at 0.46, 8 J Brajkovic (Sloven) Astana Pro Team at same time, 9 D Menchov (Rus) Katusha Team at 0.50, 10 M Monfort (Bel) RadioShack-Nissan at 0.56, 11 N Roche (Rep Ire) AG2R La Mondiale at 1:06, 12 F Schleck (Lux) RadioShack-Nissan at 1:09, 13 R Porte (Aus) Sky Procycling at 1:14, 14 M Rogers (Aus) Sky Procycling at 1:24, 15 T Pinot (Fr) FDJ-Big Mat.
Selected others: 100 S Cummings (GB) BMC Racing Team at 9mins 16secs, 107 D Millar (GB) Garmin - Sharp at 10:18, 146 M Cavendish (GB) SkyProcycling at 14:21.
Stage eight (Bellfort-Porrentruy, 157.5km): 1 T Pinot (Fr) FDJ-Big Mat 3hrs 59mins 10secs, 2 C Evans (Aus) BMC Racing Team at 0.26secs, 3 TGallopin (Fr) RadioShack-Nissan at same time, 4 B Wiggins (GB) Sky Procycling at same time, 5 V Nibali (It) Liquigas-Cannondale at same time, 6 J Van Den Broeck (Bel) Lotto Belisol Team at same time, 7 C Froome (GB) Sky Procycling at same time, 8 D Menchov (Rus) Katusha Team at same time, 9 H Agirre (Sp) RadioShack-Nissan at same time, 10 F Schleck (Lux) RadioShack-Nissan at 0.30, 11 C Horner (US) RadioShack-Nissan at same time, 12 F Kessiakoff (Swe) Astana Pro Team at 0.47, 13 N Roche (Rep Ire) AG2R La Mondiale at 1min 25secs, 14 C Sorensen (Den) Team Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank at same time, 15 M Monfort (Bel) RadioShack-Nissan at same time.
Selected others: 88 D Millar (GB) Garmin - Sharp 4hrs 11mins 37secs, 124 S Cummings (GB) BMC Racing Team at 16mins 41secs, 148 M Cavendish (GB) Sky Procycling at 22.19.
General classification: 1 B Wiggins (GB) Sky Procycling 38hrs 17mins 56secs, 2 C Evans (Aus) BMC Racing Team at 0.10secs, 3 V Nibali (It) Liquigas-Cannondale at 0.16, 4 D Menchov (Rus) Katusha Team at 0.54, 5 H Agirre (Sp) RadioShack-Nissan at 0.59, 6 C Froome (GB) Sky Procycling at 1min 32secs, 7 M Monfort (Bel) RadioShack-Nissan at 2.08, 8 J Van Den Broeck (Bel) Lotto Belisol Team at 2.11, 9 N Roche (Rep Ire) AG2R La Mondiale at 2.21, 10 R Taaramae (Est) Cofidis, Le Crédit En Ligne at 2.27, 11 T Gallopin (Fr) RadioShack-Nissan at 3.13, 12 R Da Costa (Portugal) Movistar Team at 3.24, 13 T Pinot (Fr) FDJ-Big Mat at 3.41, 14 C Horner (US) RadioShack-Nissan at 3.43, 15 F Schleck (Lux) RadioShack-Nissan at 3.47. Selected others: 113 S Cummings (GB) BMC Racing Team 39hrs 26mins 17secs, 135 D Millar (GB) Garmin - Sharp at 47mins 33secs, 152 M Cavendish (GB) Sky Procycling at 51.59.