PARIS, (Reuters) – Having learnt from last year’s failure, Bradley Wiggins believes he is now fully ready to tackle a punishing Tour de France and become the first Briton to climb on to the podium on the Champs Elysees.
The Belgium-born Wiggins’s fourth place overall in the 2009 Tour came as a huge surprise, but the Team Sky leader was brought down to earth last year on a much more demanding route, finishing 24th.
“I needed a year of disappointment, a year to really settle down, get used to leading a team and that role. Because before I was just Brad the joker,” Wiggins told Reuters in an interview a few days before winning the Criterium du Dauphine, a prestigious warm-up race ahead of the Tour.
“I’ve got a new coach and a new sports scientist working with me; just got a more detailed plan of action as to how we gear up to the Tour de France, which I never had last year.
“So we just worked back from the Tour, looked to the demands of the event and trained for the demands more this year of the Tour de France,” he explained.
“It’s been much more enjoyable and it’s been working well, it’s been really satisfying this year because last year I tried to do my own training, I tried to do everything myself but I just messed it all up.”
Three-times Olympic pursuit champion, Wiggins was not designed to repeat brutal efforts on mountain climbs.
Having shed 11 kilos since the 2008 Beijing Olympics, he does fare better in the mountains although last year he struggled to tackle multiple ascents in the same stage.
This year, he did not ride the Giro, which cost him a lot of energy last year. He has made sure he will be ready for Saturday’s Tour start.
“I certainly, as it stands, have unfinished business with the Tour de France,” he said. “I don’t think I prepared for that at 100 percent (last time).
“(There are) different demands (this year) so I prepared more for those demands and I’ve been training at altitude a lot this year which I never done in the past.”
Wiggins will have to keep his composure in the toughest mountain stages which feature several intimidating climbs, such as the 18th stage when the riders will tackle the out-of-category ascents to the Col d’Agnel, Col d’Izoard and the Col du Galibier, where the day ends.
“Normally I just follow the best, that’s always been the way…it was for them to try and drop me,” said Wiggins. “I think it will always stay the same.
“I’m not a pure climber like (Alberto) Contador or Andy Schleck, I have to be a bit smarter. I have to climb a bit more conservatively at times like I did on the Ventoux in 2009, and I kept coming up from the back, because I just could not follow those attacks.
“It’s normally a race against myself and try not to get dictated to by what the others are doing but that becomes more difficult to do when you’re in the yellow jersey because everybody is watching you.”
Wearing the yellow jersey would fulfil one of Wiggins’s dreams, and the second-stage team time trial will provide the Briton with the perfect opportunity.
“I’d love to take the yellow, it would be a great start to the Tour and it’s a shame there’s not more time trialing,” he said.
“In 1989, how many time trials ? The team time trial, the prologue and three time trials. I pray for a Tour like that one day.”
Wiggins, however, will have less pressure than last year when he was overwhelmed by the hype surrounding the new Team Sky and crushed by the pressure of expectations.
“It definitely eased because obviously I’ve come back to…not having that expectation on me this year,” he said.
“But also I’ve got the results going into the Tour this year to back up my condition which also helps ease the pressure slightly.
“There is less hype about the team now, there’s less hysteria. It should be easier all round I think.”
Wiggins, though, will not get carried away.
“You can’t really think too far ahead. If you just get thinking too far in advance, you miss the step ahead of you,” he said.
“When you start a team pursuit you never think of the last lap because it seems so far away. That’s the way I try to tackle these races otherwise you go crazy.”