Bradley Wiggins primed for Tour de France glory

By Tim FranksBBC Sport

In cycling, some hold a view that Bradley Wiggins has been too good this year.

Too good, that is, to keep on being this good - and to become Britain's first ever winner of the Tour de France.

The slightly tortured reasoning is that he has peaked too soon, achieving the unprecedented triple triumph of the Paris-Nice, Tour de Romandie, and Criterium du Dauphine road races.

Wiggins adjusts his thin frame on the hotel chair and refuses to bite. The season, he says, has been mapped out from the start, and it is "all about peaking for July".

With his team staff nearby perusing the downloaded data from that morning's training run in Majorca, there is an ominous precision about Wiggins's next comment: "We won those races at 96 to 97%.

"And that last 3% that comes between the end of the Dauphine and the Tour is what's going to give us that last bit."

It is extraordinary that there is even talk of Wiggins being a, perhaps the, favourite for the Tour. Forget victory: no Briton has ever appeared on the podium, in the Tour's great history.

But some wise heads are worrying that Team Sky are trying to do too much, in aiming to deliver for both of its stars: not just Wiggins, but Mark Cavendish, who last year won the green jersey (for the best sprinter).

The veteran tour commentator David Duffield said that Sky face a "big problem" trying to achieve what no team has done for 15 years, in taking both the yellow and green jerseys.

Wiggins reaches for the numbers again, insisting that he has "100% faith in (team manager) Dave Brailsford and the team".

More tantalisingly, he says that "at this stage no-one knows the strategy. We won't have that strategy until we get to Liege (the "Grand Depart" for this year's Tour)."

Wiggins has the self-possession and the loping ease of the very fit. His tall frame has been pared down to boost his power-to-weight ratio. The only excess baggage are the wide trapezoid sideburns he sports - a reminder that he is more mod than identikit sportsperson.

That difference comes through in his thoughtfulness. When he says "I never imagined it would be me" - of his prediction, back in 2008, that it would take 10 years before a Brit could challenge for the Tour, he speaks with what seems to be genuine wonder and introspection.

Where the lifelong Liverpool fan bristles, is when I ask him about the jibe that Team Sky are like Manchester City, or the other nouveaux riches of football: a team which has bought the talent.

"I think a lot of that is pure speculation," he answers, leaning forward. "No-one knows what salaries we're on, and I think it would probably shock a few people if they knew the truth."

The truth, he argues, lies in the attention to detail - in training, in nutrition, in the equipment, the team selection for races - "based on pure evidence" rather than sentiment or tradition. "It's those minor details that make us the best team in cycling, and probably one of the most professional, best sporting teams in the world."

Above all, though, it is about the work, the hard yards. Wiggins and the team around him are winding down their training now, ahead of the unparalleled demands of the Tour, in less than two weeks' time.

But still, when we spoke, it was after he had spent more than five hours in the saddle that morning, grinding up the savage and beautiful peaks of Majorca's Trentamura range.

Wiggins allows himself to puff his chest a little: "Five and a half hours as part of the tapering - that seems mind-boggling to a lot of people. But that's our daily life. Actually at this point - two weeks before the Tour - it hardly skims the surface.

"It's that sort of work, day by day, month by month, year after year after year, which has got us to this level where we're in contention to win the Tour de France."

No matter how hard he and his team pedal, though, they cannot leave entirely the smell behind which, at times, has threatened to suffocate the sport - the smell of drug abuse.

The US Anti-Doping Agency has levelled new accusations against the multi-Tour winner, Lance Armstrong (accusations which he has, as ever, strongly denied).

The former drugs cheat David Millar has been cleared for possible selection for the British Olympic road race team.

Wiggins sighs. "I could cry all day" about the taint of drugs, he says, by way of indicating that that is precisely what he is not doing. All he and his team can do, he says, is be as open as they are.

But he also suggests he will be resolutely pragmatic about the issue. "It's about Cav (Mark Cavendish) winning that road race. And we're going to be out there with the best four riders supporting him. Anything else is a distraction."

Our conversation closes with Wiggins musing on the effect a British winner of the Tour might have on what is still a minor sport in the UK.

"It doesn't take a mathematician to work it out," he said.

He eases himself out of the chair and wanders off. We exchange goodbyes, but no handshakes: it is too close to the Tour, and to the culmination of all that work, to risk injury.