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Wiggins riding high

Team Sky rider impresses in Paris-Nice

Richard Moore Posted 7th March 2012 view comments

It is ill-advised to be writing about a race mid-way through, but here goes...

Paris-Nice, which finishes on Sunday, is a major stepping stone for Bradley Wiggins as he builds towards the Tour de France, and over the opening days of the 'Race to the Sun' he could hardly have been more impressive.

Wiggins: in top form

Wiggins: in top form

Watching Wiggins race through the rain in the opening time trial, master the crosswinds to slip into the yellow jersey on stage two and then defend it with calm assurance on the climb to the finish of stage three, it was impossible not to be struck by the contrast with the Wiggins of old. And to marvel at how he has grown into the role of team leader.

He is doing a much better impersonation of a Tour contender than Andy Schleck, who has pulled out of Paris-Nice with illness, or Frank Schleck, or Evans, or Ivan Basso, or Vicenzo Nibali, or the currently suspended Alberto Contador.

Richard Moore
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He will be judged on what happens in July, of course. But the signs could not be more promising at this early stage.

It is not so much his form; it is the way he is going about his business. From his positioning in the bunch - a critical factor in his infiltration of the front group in the crosswinds - to his post-stage routine, which sees him jump on to the rollers for a warm-down before the formalities of podium presentations and drugs tests, the impression is of a rider whose focus on the bigger picture is laser-like.

But it has been that way since the end of last season. It was one that Wiggins finished in arguably the best form of his career, with third at the Tour of Spain, second in the world time trial championship in Copenhagen, and a heroic ride in the road race a few days later, which might have been the difference between Mark Cavendish winning and losing.

This sequence of performances is significant. It is remarkable how often a rider finishes one season strongly before going on to perform at a higher level the next.

Best

We have seen it recently with Cadel Evans and Thor Hushovd, both of whom followed their world championship victories with best-ever seasons. It is as though their performances opened their eyes to what they might be capable of, or perhaps it is just the infusion of confidence that carries them through the winter.

Wiggins didn't really have an off-season. He went straight back to work, with yellow in the Tour and gold in the Olympic time trial his goals. Standing between him and an Olympic gold medal, it seemed at the end of last year, was Tony Martin, who was a substantial minute and 15 seconds quicker than him in Copenhagen.

In early January Wiggins joked that his support team had already "found a minute-and-a-half" on Martin. At least, we thought he was joking. But Martin is one of several big hitters - Hushovd, Andy Schleck and Philippe Gilbert are others - who have started the season slowly.

It bears repeating: this might mean nothing. It is ridiculously early. Martin, Hushovd and Gilbert are bedding-in to new teams. Then again, Martin won Paris-Nice last year - a performance that set the tone of a season in which he usurped Fabian Cancellara as the world's best rider against the clock.

Wiggins' goals are as lofty as they get, and he is more than aware that some do not seem him as a potential Tour winner. Yet even his detractors will have to concede that he looks in great physical shape, and that he has been riding with intelligence, presence and authority.

In fact, the way he is currently riding, he is doing a much better impersonation of a Tour contender than Andy Schleck, who has pulled out of Paris-Nice with illness, or Frank Schleck, or Evans, or Ivan Basso, or Vicenzo Nibali, or the currently suspended Alberto Contador.

That leaves, who?

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