Well, I had to go through 19 teams to get here, but Iâ€™m finally at the squad that I think will be taking the yellow jersey back to its service course on Monday, July 23rd.
First, let me say on record that I was wrong about Bradley Wiggins (in my defense, I wasnâ€™t alone). I thought his remarks following his transfer from Garmin to Sky were arrogant for a rider had seemingly come out of nowhere to finish fourth in the 2009 Tour de France. I was subsequently one of the first people to say â€œI told you soâ€ following Wiggoâ€™s disastrous grand tour campaign in 2010, wondering out loud if his big-money transfer was one of the worst transfers in the history of the sport.
But now itâ€™s time for me to eat some crow. I thought my time might come during last yearâ€™s Tour de Franceâ€”especially after Wigginsâ€™ dominating performance in the Criterium du DauphinÃ© a few weeks prior. Luckily, my ego was spared the embarrassment after the Britâ€™s crash and subsequent abandon during Stage 7.
Then came the Vuelta and a third-place for Wiggins in one of the hilliest grand tours of all timeâ€”thus disproving my theory that he couldnâ€™t survive against pure climbers. From there he went to Worlds and knocked-off Fabian Cancellara to finish second behind Tony Martin in the individual time trialâ€”and there went my belief that Wiggins was only a good time trialist when pitted against other all-rounders.
My feast of crow worsened this season thanks to Wiggoâ€™s sheer dominance in Paris-Nice, the Tour of Romandie, and the DauphinÃ©. The final chink in his armorâ€”at least as I saw itâ€”was gone. Wiggo had effectively proven that he knew how to manage himself and his team. He had won the faith of a team full of championsâ€”a situation that might have gone pear-shaped quickly had Wiggins not managed everyoneâ€™s expectations with confidence and poise.
So now the 32-year-old heads to the Tour de France as a somewhat overwhelming favorite to win Britain itâ€™s first Tour de France title. The course suits him perfectly and heâ€™s already beaten each of his main rivals in some fashion or another so far this season.
In fact, Wiggins has come so far in his progression over the past few seasons, that several people recently paid him a tremendously backhanded (and certainly sinister) compliment by wondering openly if the Team Sky captain is doping.
And I mean that in the best way possibleâ€”even if they didnâ€™t.
Man of the Hour
While the 2012 Tour de France looks to be Wiggoâ€™s race to lose, we cannot mention Team Sky without mentioning Mark Cavendish. The reigning world champion is also riding wellâ€”he even won his first stage race title two weeks agoâ€”and has enough of his own domestiques to contend. Better still, he appears to be forgoing a chance to defend his green jersey title from last yearâ€™s event, thus giving his team one less thing to worry about in its bid to win yellow.
Chris Froome was a surprising runner-up at last yearâ€™s Vuelta, demonstrating an impressive mix of climbing and time trialing to finish one place ahead of his teammate and captain, Brad Wiggins. After a slow start to the season, Froome was back on track at the DauphinÃ© where he climbed and time trialed his way to a fourth-place finish. Even while helping Wiggins make his bid for yellow, Froome is talented enough to challenge for stage wins (mountain and TT) and a high overall finish of his own.
On the Hot Seat
No one really. Every rider on Team Skyâ€™s Tour de France roster deserves to be there. It could be that Wiggins sits astride the Hot Seat as the man most people have picked to win the race, but as I said before, he seems to have matured to a point where the pressure doesnâ€™t bother him.
After the demise of HTC-HighRoad, Team Sky wisely picked-up Belarusâ€™ Konstantsin Siutsou. Siutsou finished ninth in last yearâ€™s Giro and eighth in the DauphinÃ©â€”the talented climber will certainly be a valuable aid to Wiggins in the mountains.