Cycling: 'Good TV' is hell for Wiggins and chasing pack
Attacks by the 2011 Tour de France winner, Cadel Evans and by the 2010 Tour of Spain champion, Vincenzo Nibali; attacks on the ascent of a 17km Alpine climb by the Belgian Jurgen van Den Broeck; attacks almost within sight of the finish by Evans again -- as Bradley Wiggins had warned, there will be no respite until the Tour reaches Paris.
"It's like junior racing, exciting stuff and good for the telly," Wiggins -- who came through unscathed yesterday and with his lead intact -- said with a half-ironic smile when asked about how it felt to be put under such pressure.
By letting a huge break of 25 riders go away early, Team Sky had tried to lower the temperature on a stage featuring a viciously long Alpine climb, the Col du Gran Colombier, mid-race. "It's evil," was how Sean Yates, Sky's sports director, recalled from his own racing days.
As the 25-strong move shrank to just four riders ahead on the Colombier's mixture of painfully steep ramps -- finally culminating 40km later in a last-ditch attack and win for France's Thomas Voeckler -- Sky attempted to keep Wiggins' overall contenders on the leash.
Van Den Broeck's three attempts to go clear on a seemingly endless series of hairpin bends and short straightaways were quickly contained, but after Evans tested the water at the summit of the Colombier, Nibali -- currently fourth overall -- then made an even more prolonged effort on the twisting, narrow descent and went clear.
The rider is well known as a demon descender and Wiggins said later that his cold-blooded downhill charge away at speeds of over 90kph had been expected. But it did a great deal of initial damage -- particularly when the burly Slovak Peter Sagan helped Nibali raise his advantage on Wiggins' chasing group to over a minute.
Matters were not simplified when Wiggins' team-mate Michael Rogers was punctured at the top of the Colombier, suffering a two-minute delay. Aware that Wiggins was in need of much support as he could get, when Rogers finally reached the finish, the air was as blue as the former triple World Time Trial Champion let vent his frustration.
Fortunately, Nibali's move imploded as Sagan cracked, and Sky upped the pace further on the shallow, but steady third category ascent of the Col de Richemond to reel in their slippery Italian rival.
"It went to script; I wasn't too worried. I knew that Nibali would have had to make a major effort to stay away and there was a fair bit of flat afterwards to pull him back," Wiggins, 13th on the stage, said.
"But you can't underestimate anyone in the top 10: Nibali won the Tour of Spain in 2010 and has been third in the Tour of Italy and there are lots of dangerous rivals."
After the stage, Wiggins launched his second passionate diatribe about his credibility as a Tour leader in the space of four days.Asked if he understood why he was questioned on the subject of doping given that a French rider, Remy di Gregorio, had been taken into custody as part of a police investigation into banned drugs the previous day, Wiggins gave an answer lasting nearly three minutes: "I'm not some f**k rider who's come from nowhere, I've been six times world champion, triple Olympic champion, fourth in the Tour de France, third in the Vuelta."
Wiggins singled out, once again, anonymous Twitter trolls who insinuate it is impossible to win the Tour without doping, saying: "I just don't feel like I have to sit here and justify myself to everyone."
After yesterday's incursion into the Jura, today features a far more difficult challenge, the 19-kilometre Toussuire Alpine climb, the last of three major cols in what Wiggins considers "the most difficult single stage". (©Independent News Service)