Of all the lessons learned by Bradley Wiggins in time-trialling over the last 12 months, probably the most important for yesterday's historic triumph was not to dig too deep, too soon. As the Londoner has found from bitter experience, acting on impulse in a contre-la-montre can carry a very high price tag.
In the Tour of Spain last autumn, Wiggins lost a crucial time trial at Salamanca, over a very similar distance to yesterday's, because he had forced the pace so hard so early that he "blew" by the second half. The result was that he slumped to third behind Tony Martin – the 2011 world champion and his biggest rival yesterday – and his Sky team-mate Chris Froome.
Since then, in each of his seven time-trial victories, Wiggins has kept a cooler head and saved a chunk of his energy for the second part of the race. This explains why yesterday he was some 5sec behind Martin's time after 7.5 kilometres, which could have been worrying had that disadvantage then extended any further.
Instead, Wiggins turned the tables with a vengeance. Slowly but steadily opening up the throttle, the Briton was 11sec up on the German by the next intermediate time checkpoint at 18.4 kilometres, or just under halfway. A further 11 kilometres down the line, by the third checkpoint, that advantage had doubled to 22sec and by the finish it was up to 42sec.
If the Wiggins energy control was all but faultless yesterday, so too was his time-trialling technique. Perched slightly forward on the saddle to ensure maximum power transmission, there was no swaying of the shoulders, barely even a twitch of his upper body, an almost feline smoothness to his pedalling style – all signs of a "chrono" specialist in total control.
To judge from the television images, there were no errors whatsoever in his bike handling: he sliced perfectly through the apex of each corner, swooped round the road furniture with ease and picked out the path of least resistance on each straightaway. And if Froome and Martin were both visibly in trouble by the end of the course, with their heads swaying and mouths wide open, and the defending Olympic champion Fabian Cancellara was in need of medical aid, in contrast Wiggins looked to be fully in control.
In fact, in keeping with his boyhood idol Miguel Indurain, nicknamed "The Martian" for his poker face in time trials, there was no air punching or celebration when Wiggins crossed the line. Furthermore, rather than getting out of the saddle to accelerate when the finishing gantries loomed into view – not recommended from a strictly aerodynamic point of view but hard to resist after nearly an hour of racing flat-out – Wiggins stayed seated to ensure he had the best time possible. Only when Cancellara, the last rider, had finished and the victory was definitively his did Wiggins finally begin to let his emotions out of the bag.
The flat, open and well-surfaced roads of yesterday's 44-kilometre course – a distance he excels over – were perfect for Wiggins. The Tour de France's first time trial, in Besançon, was twisty and technical, and so was not ideal for a rider with a track background like his, with years of hammering out huge gears on the velodrome with an excellent natural cadence; on a course as straightforward as yesterday's, Wiggins could exploit those talents to the maximum.
So was a Wiggins gold inevitable? Not at all. Apart from injury, riders with minimal body fat have low defences, and are prey to illness. But perhaps his greatest achievement was simply to maintain his focus for 10 days after the Tour which, lest we forget, is the toughest endurance event in the world.
Wiggins on top: How Brad beat Steve
1 B. Wiggins 4/1/2/7
2 S. Redgrave 5/0/1/6
3 C. Hoy 4/1/0/5
4 H. Taylor 3/0/2/5
5 J. Beresford 3/2/0/5
6 M. Pinsent 4/0/0/4
7 P. Radmilovic 4/0/0/4
8 B. Ainslie 3/1/0/4
9 R. Doherty 3/0/1/4
10 R. Meade 3/0/0/3
Wiggins' Olympic medal haul
London 2012: Time trial
Beijing 2008: Team pursuit
Beijing: Individual pursuit
Athens 2004: Individual pursuit
Athens: Team pursuit
Athens 2004: Madison
Sydney 2000: Team pursuit
Wiggins is the first rider to win the Tour de France and an Olympic Gold medal in the same year.
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