Monday, 16 July 2012
Flares, tacks, doping questions and an ambitious teammate - Brad Wiggins is enduring an exotic array of challenges while leading the Tour de France.
But every day that Cadel Evans and the other title contenders fail to wrest the yellow jersey from Wiggins, he grows more comfortable wearing it.
Wiggins has held the race lead since stage seven and consolidated his position by blitzing the stage-nine time trial.
His strongest rival appears to be Sky teammate Chris Froome, who put Wiggins into difficulty near the end of stage 11 before team management made a frantic radio call.
Otherwise, Wiggins has looked rock-solid.
"It's a good point - when you put that jersey on for the first time and lead a race of this magnitude, the world's biggest race ... you've dreamed about it all your life," said Sky team manager Dave Brailsford.
"Eventually you start becoming used to it a little bit more and assuming the role a bit more.
"He's doing that really, really well, he's handling all the extra demands of wearing that jersey in a dignified way, he's doing a super job so far."
Wiggins continues to lead Froome by two minutes and five seconds, while Evans is fourth at 3:19.
It will take something special for the Australian to overhaul Wiggins' lead.
The yellow jersey comes with a massive target on its back and as cycling tries to establish a post-doping era, Wiggins has faced a daily barrage of questions about his training methods and ethics.
He had an expletive-laden rant about anonymous internet critics after stage eight, but Wiggins has since taken a more measured approach to the issue.
He's still swearing, but not quite so strongly.
Wiggins went to the extent of writing a newspaper column about why he could never dope.
He also had to cope with fans letting off flares near him during a stage, leaving Wiggins with minor burns on his arm.
Wiggins expressed his concern about the incident, then quickly moved on to the next stage.
As he draws closer to becoming the first British rider to win the Tour, Wiggins is also growing into a more senior role among his colleagues.
A day after Wiggins said he had no interest in becoming a "patron" of the Tour peloton, he showed natural leadership among his fellow riders on Sunday as the tack attack saga unfolded.
It was Wiggins who told the main group to slow down after Evans and several other riders punctured.
"Everybody sees those situations differently but personally I wouldn't want to benefit from something like that," Wiggins said.
"I thought the best thing to do is to wait.
"If you can't gain times on the climbs, then you don't do it when someone's punctured, not even when it's an ordinary puncture.
"So when it was something like what happened today, something external affecting the race, then it's even more so."
As history beckons, Wiggins is growing more impressive and more formidable by the day.