The penultimate stage time trial proved to be a race of confirmation rather than one of drama as Bradley Wiggins and Sky stamped their authority on the 2012 Tour one final time. Wiggins and Chris Froome finished one-two – just as they had in stage nine‘s time trial – with the maillot jaune underlining his superiority over his teammate with victory by a whopping 76 seconds. Richie Porte confirmed his all-round ability with an impressive fifth place to give Sky three of the top five finishers.
Argos-Shimano’s Patrick Gretsch had set the early benchmark of 1:06:41 – which would ultimately be sixth-fastest – and he stood proudly on top of the timesheets until Luis Leon Sanchez (Rabobank) capped a successful second half of the Tour by going top with 1:06:03. Porte and Omega Pharma-Quick Step’s Peter Velits came within 35 and 12 seconds respectively of unseating the Spanish time trial champion, but it was not until the final pair of Froome and Wiggins that he was displaced.
Froome was marginally ahead throughout before accelerating in the closing kilometres to take 34 seconds off the best time, and less than two minutes later a blaze of yellow stopped the clock at 1:04:03, 1:16 faster than Froome and 1:50 quicker than Sanchez. Indeed, only eight riders finished within three minutes of Wiggins. This wasn’t just a victory – it was a rout.
Elsewhere in the top ten, the pure climbers were all able to at least maintain their GC position against the challenge of time trial specialists. Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale) was already secure in third, but punched in an impressive 16th-fastest time to confirm his podium spot. Jurgen van den Broeck (Lotto-Belisol) did just enough to maintain fourth. Pierre Rolland (Europcar) clung on to eighth by just seven seconds, while Haimar Zubeldia (RadioShack-Nissan) actually climbed one place to sixth.
All that remains now is the coronation procession in Paris tomorrow. As a race, the 2012 Tour de France is done.
VeloVoices rider of the day
If I was going on performance, it would be easy to identify Wiggins as the rider of the day. Or perhaps Nibali, not a noted time-triallist, who produced probably the two best performances of his life against the clock in this year’s race. But I’m a sentimental soul at heart, and while today offered little in the way of unexpected drama, my heart bled for outgoing champion Cadel Evans, my rider of the day. Evans remains one of the best exponents of time-trialling in the sport, but today suffered the ignominy of being passed by his own teammate, Tejay van Garderen, who had started three minutes behind him, on his way to 52nd place nearly six minutes down on Wiggins. The result enabled Zubeldia to leap-frog over him, pushing him down to seventh.
All season it has felt like Evans, although not in bad shape, has been slightly behind the game compared to his dominant performances of 2011. But no one could have predicted what has been a spectacular implosion in the final week. Brought low by digestive issues, he has visibly become weaker with every passing day, and today the extent of his decline was laid bare in front of watching millions. However, despite his disappointing results, Evans has ridden with dignity throughout and no small amount of panache. He has been one of a very small number of top riders who have dared to attack Sky’s dynamic duo. The legs haven’t been there this year, but the heart of a champion remains. Chapeau, Cadel.
With competition drama somewhat lacking, I found myself watching much of this stage with a technical eye and couldn’t help but admire Bradley Wiggins‘ riding style. He may just be the most technically disciplined time trial rider I have ever seen. Watch him from the front and you can see his profile is as narrow as it can possibly be: shoulders compact, elbows tucked in. Watch him from the side and you see textbook body shape: rock solid, with back perfectly flat. Watch him from behind and you realise there is absolutely no wasted effort: all his movement is below the waist as he grinds a big gear. Not one watt of power is wasted.
Now compare and contrast that with Pierre Rolland, who was often shown in adjacent shots to Wiggins. The Frenchman is a superb climber, but no time-triallist. Head up, back arched, elbows out, rocking ever so slightly from side to side. Compare him to Wiggins, and you’d think the Briton was out for a leisurely Sunday ride and yet he was six minutes faster. As in Formula 1, the rule of thumb is that the less dramatic the ride looks the faster it is likely to be. Sometimes you don’t need a stopwatch.
With all four jerseys effectively decided before the start of the stage (barring any major disasters) and a flattish profile without significant climbs, tactical considerations were few and far between today. Such is the level of professionalism in the peloton that most riders gauged their effort well, not going out too fast and holding a little in reserve to avoid blowing in the closing kilometres. The time gaps between Gretsch and several of the early riders – frequently six minutes or more – suggested that we might see some significant position changes outside of the top three but (with the exception of Cadel Evans) those never materialised.
Not that they needed any help, but Wiggins and Froome will have benefitted from having Richie Porte out on the road ahead of them. A gifted time-triallist in his own right, Porte will have set some meaningful reference times around the course to help the top two pace their efforts. It’s all part of Sky team boss’ David Brailsford’s mantra of ‘aggregation of marginal gains’ that have helped mould arguably the strongest team in the peloton into one which has also proven to be unbeatable. Wiggins, Froome and Cavendish may take the laurels, but each of them would be quick to acknowledge the efforts of their unsung teammates in delivering them to success. As is traditional, the entire team will lead the maillot jaune on to the Champs Élyseeés tomorrow afternoon to accept the plaudits of the crowd – and rightly so.
VeloVoices will bring you previews of each day’s stage every morning, live coverage of every stage on Twitter, reviews in the evening and in-depth analysis after selected stages.