Sunday, 22 July 2012
Bradley Wiggins confirmed he will become the first British Tour de France champion as the bottom fell out of Cadel Evans' title defence.
Wiggins won the 53.5km time trial on Saturday from Bonneval to Chartres in an hour four minutes and 13 seconds, a minute and 13 seconds ahead of Sky teammate and compatriot Chris Froome.
The British star has a lead of 3:21 over Froome with only Sunday's traditional final Paris stage to come.
But Evans had a nightmare day, finishing 52nd in a discipline where he usually excels.
He dropped one place to seventh on the overall standings, 15:51 behind Wiggins, and that will be his final position.
Evans took the yellow jersey from Andy Schleck in the same time trial stage last year, going on to become the first Australian Tour champion.
This time American teammate Tejay van Garderen, who started three minutes behind Evans, passed him at the 30km mark.
Evans, who suffered from stomach problems earlier this week, finished the stage a whopping 5:54 behind Wiggins.
His poor performance will inevitably raise questions about whether he can perform at the London Olympics.
Evans is a member of the five-man Australian team for the July 28 road race.
He and Michael Rogers were picked to ride the individual time trial on August 1.
"It's actually support in the bad times that you need, so thanks to everyone," Evans said to a large group of Australian fans who gathered around the BMC team van at the finish.
"This year, obviously, it's been an off year and now I look back at it, I had an off year (in) 09, 10 - it comes and goes, it comes and goes.
"But of course I went in with really high expectations and then as the race went on, my chance lessened and lessened and I had to adjust to that.
"Then by the time today came, I was just hoping to hold my place on GC (general classification) - I started the day empty."
The best-placed Australian on the stage was Wiggins' teammate Richie Porte, who was fifth at 2:25.
Van Garderen was seventh at 2:34 and improved one place to fourth overall.
He will also win the young rider category.
A year ago, Wiggins was among the race favourites when he crashed out in the first week with a broken collarbone.
Wiggins took the yellow jersey in stage seven and has held it since, thanks to an overpowering performance from Sky.
Porte and Rogers were key lieutenants for Wiggins in the mountain stages.
Froome has looked stronger in the mountains than Wiggins and that has led to intense speculation about whether the second-placed rider should have been free to pursue his own ambitions in this Tour.
But Wiggins has convincingly won the two time trial stages to justify Sky's pre-Tour strategy that he would be their No.1 rider.
Evans, meanwhile, was left lamenting a hard three weeks.
"If you're empty, there's not a great deal you can do," he said.
"You can sometimes hang on the wheel a little bit longer, on the flat or some of the climbs, but in a time trial all your weaknesses are exposed.
"So I just rode my own race, within my capabilities of the day, but now I finish this first and look to the next objective.
"At this point it's the London road race and, yeah, we'll see."
Evans said he would start planning for next year's Tour as soon as possible.
BMC director John Lelangue told AAP the day before the time trial he thinks Evans can remain a Tour contender, even though the Australian will be 36 next year.
"Obviously we have big improvements to make, whereas last year we were more having to move ahead in anticipation of (how) the others were moving ahead," Evans said.
"I go to Olympics, but of course the (BMC) team will look at whether changing the riders or whatever.
"I will be focussed on the racing, but for the team that starts on Monday."
Asked to think of his thoughts compared to this time last year, Evans said "I couldn't think of a more enormous contrast ... there's no comparison at all."
Evans also confirmed he had not ridden conservatively to keep himself fresh for the Olympics.
"Right now, I just look at where I am - I started out exhausted and I just rode within what my limits are today," he said.
"I'm here at this point of the race empty, for whatever reasons - the first (task) is to find out that.
"After a three-week block of racing, a few days of recovery can hopefully do wonders."