July 10, 2012 - Bradley Wiggins insists he won't be taking his Tour de France yellow jersey for granted despite holding a significant lead over defending champion Cadel Evans heading into the Alps.
Wiggins, who looks head and shoulders above every rider on the Tour this year except perhaps teammate Chris Froome, extended his lead over Evans to 1min 53sec with a time trial victory on stage nine.
After Tuesday's rest day the race resumes Wednesday with two consecutive days in the high Alps, including a hilltop finish on stage 11 Thursday at La Toussuire.
Given the 1:43 he lost to Wiggins on Monday, Evans's obvious option is to attack the Englishman and his Sky team, but needing, perhaps, the helping hand of rivals with similar goals. The Australian, who has one victory and two runner-up places at the race, is hoping the experience of his seven previous participations, as well as better form, comes to the fore.
"We're really at the midway point of the race now, and in the second half is where I come into my best. I have more strength and consistency," Evans said on the first rest day Tuesday. "I suspect it's going to get harder, riders always get more tired and we've got a lot of hard stages to go. I think it's going to open up more and more."
A year after crashing out of the race with a fractured collarbone, Wiggins is now in the "dream" position of leading most of his rivals by two minutes or But despite the strong possibility of an historic British win, the lanky Englishman with a passion for music, scooters and the 'Mod' culture of the 1970's says the race is not won yet.
"I don't for one minute underestimate Cadel and what he is capable of doing," said Wiggins. "We're in a dream scenario at the moment almost two minutes ahead, which is something we'd never really hoped for or imagined having. But we're taking it one day at a time. I'm certainly not going to underestimate the guy at all. Got huge respect for him. He won last year and I expect him to fight all the way to Paris."
Sky, however, have looked imperious in the mountain stages held so far. On the first hilltop finish on stage seven, Kenyan-born Briton Froome beat Evans to the stage win with Wiggins pulling on the yellow jersey after finishing third only 2secs later. A day later, several teams ganged up on Sky in a bid to shake Wiggins but the Briton, and Froome, resisted on the last climb and the tricky descent into Porrentruy in Switzerland.
On Monday, Sky stamped their authority on the race again with Wiggins winning the 41.5 km time trial and Froome finishing close behind to move up to third overall 14sec behind Evans. Tactically, Sky could not be in a better position. If Wiggins happens to have an off-day or crashes, Froome will be primed to take over the leadership - a scenario the adopted Briton does not yet want to consider.
"Our number one priority is to get Bradley on the top step of the podium," said Froome, who beat Wiggins to runner-up spot at the Tour of Spain in 2011.
With a number of other rivals needing to make up time, such as Italian Vincenzo Nibali, fourth at 2:23 and Russian Denis Menchov, fifth at 3:02, alliances to destabilise Sky will be expected. Indeed, given Sky's domineering pace-setting on the first mountain stage at La Planche des Belles Filles, it may be Evans' only option.
"Whether we'll see an alliance of people, that depends on the moment, the situation," said the Australian.
Wiggins is certainly expecting no walk in the park.
"I don't expect anyone to say that Sky have won it," he said. "We expect this to be a shit fight for the next two weeks. It's what cycling's about, that's what people train to do."