Wiggins all but wraps up Tour de France title

JAMEY KEATEN
Last updated 06:50 22/07/2012
Wiggins
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BACK FOR MORE: Bradley Wiggins will focus on the Giro d'Italia this year and play a supporting role to teammate Chris Froome in the Tour de France.

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Bradley Wiggins asserted his dominance of the Tour de France on Saturday, winning the final time trial and all but sealing overall victory in the three-week race.

The 32-year-old Team Sky leader obliterated the pack in the 53.5-kilometre ride from Bonneval to Chartres in Stage 19, and is poised to become the first Briton to take home the yellow jersey.

Wiggins punched the air as he crossed the finish line in 1 hour, 4 minutes, 13 seconds, for his second stage win of this Tour and second in a time trial. Fellow countryman and Sky teammate Christopher Froome was second - 1:16 behind. Luis Leon Sanchez of Spain was third, 1:50 back.

''I can't explain how I feel now,'' said Wiggins, after sighing and looking skyward as he hoisted the winner's bouquet. ''I have a lot of emotion right now.''

''It's the stuff of dreams to win the final time-trial and seal the Tour,'' he added.

Overall, Wiggins has a 3:21 lead over Froome, who is second, while Italy's Vincenzo Nibali is third, 6:19 back.

The mostly flat course which passed fields of corn and wheat into Chartres, known for its towering cathedral with asymmetrical spires, presented few challenges other than breezy conditions.

Riders set off one-by-one in the race against the clock in reverse order of the standings, and Wiggins dominance showed right from the first time check. He was 12 seconds ahead of Froome at 14km.

Because Wiggins had such a solid lead coming in, his only real - and outside - threat was from Froome, a successful time-trial rider, and less so Nibali, who is not quite as strong in the race against the clock.

Despite rumblings about behind-the-scenes competition between them, Froome showed he was a faithful teammate through to the end - at least publicly - and that Wiggins had proved he deserved the win.

''As we saw today, he's stronger than me,'' said Froome on French TV.

''I'm very happy. The (Sky) goal this year was to win the Tour with Bradley. To be second (for me) is an added plus.''

The standings below them were the stage's biggest question mark: Whether young American Tejay Van Garderen could overtake Jurgen Van Den Broeck for fourth - he didn't - or whether Frenchman Pierre Rolland, a strong climber but not a time-trialer, would stayin the top-10. He did.

The main top change was that defending champion Cadel Evans of Australia, who got passed by BMC teammate Van Garderen despite a three-minute head start, fell one spot to seventh in the overall standings.

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Wiggins has been the odds-on favourite to win after showing dazzling form with three stage-race victories this season.

He was fourth in the 2009 Tour, a disappointing 24th in 2010, and crashed out last year.

This Tour has been about as favorable as it comes for Wiggins: the three-time Olympic track champion is among the world's best time-trial riders, and mountains - not his speciality - had relatively less weight.

He has made important strides in his climbing ability and lost weight in recent years. He proved through big two days in the Alps and Pyrenees each that he's among the best climbers too.

Saturday's stage sets up what is likely to be a largely ceremonial ride onto the Champs-Elysees in Paris for the finale of the three-week race on Sunday.

- AP

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