Tour de France open for Wiggins, Evans duel
ALL the stars are aligned as Bradley Wiggins gears up to become the first Briton to win the Tour de France, but he knows too well how cruel road cycling can be even to think past Saturday's prologue.
The suspended Alberto Contador will miss the race, fate took care of injured Andy Schleck's ambitions, the route is tailor-made for "rouleurs", and Team Sky rider Wiggins has had the best possible preparation for it.
But road cycling is unpredictable and this year's Tour, which starts with a 6,4km prologue in Liege, Belgium, will be no exception.
Team Sky promised when they started the competition two-and-a half years ago that they would put a Briton in yellow on the Champs Elysees within five years. This year the team have even issued an official soundtrack for the Tour, a song called Go Far by The Elite.
"I've been waiting for this moment for a long time and I'll do everything I can to win the Tour de France," Wiggins said. However, all the hype surrounding the team counted for nothing last year as Wiggins crashed out early.
Another factor in the June 30-July 22 race will be Contador's absence after the Spaniard was banned for failing a dope test during the 2010 race. Last year's runner-up, Luxembourg's Andy Schleck, has pulled out with a broken bone in his pelvis after a terrible season, leaving the race open for a duel between Wiggins and defending champion Cadel Evans, who has been struggling for form this year.
"There is a little pressure from not having results, but it's also a motivation. I have a good team around me and my body is capable of doing it," the Australian said.
Wiggins comes into the Tour having won the Paris-Nice and Criterium du Dauphine stage races. The Belgium-born rider has prepared in Tenerife, in Spain's Canary Islands, to improve in the climbs and is expected to follow the pace in some tough ascents on the route.
He will also be surrounded by an awe-inspiring team, with only two riders picked by team principal Dave Brailsford to support green jersey hopeful Mark Cavendish, whose main goal this year is the London Olympic Games.
Wiggins will rely on Vuelta runner-up Chris Froome and Belarussian Kanstantsin Siutsou, who has three top 20 finishes in grand Tours, as well as Australians Michael Rogers and Richie Porte to support him in the mountains. But with no pure climber set to take the race by storm, the Tour will likely be decided in the time trials as this year's edition features 101,4km against the clock, compared with 65,5km last year and 60,9km in 2009.
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