BESANCON, France – If Monday’s time trial at the Tour de France was “the test of truth” – as one top rider called it – then Bradley Wiggins aced it.
The Olympic champion, aiming to be the first British winner of cycling’s showcase race, sped to victory in the first big-time trial, tightening his grip on the yellow jersey.
“That was my physical best out there,” he said. “It’s probably my best time trial ever.”
The race against the clock is a discipline Wiggins loves. And it showed in the ninth stage, a 25.8-mile ride from Arc-et-Senans to Besancon. He finished 35 seconds ahead of Sky teammate Christopher Froome, the runner-up.
Defending champion Cadel Evans of Australia, seen as Wiggins’ most formidable rival, was a disappointing sixth. He called Wiggins and Froome “very, very, very strong riders.”
A day earlier, Evans was all too aware of the stakes in the time trial: “Tomorrow is the test of truth. It’s each with their own two legs,” he said.
Evans was 1:43 behind. He remains second overall, trailing Wiggins by 1:53. Froome rose to third, from sixth, and is 2:07 behind his teammate.
“I was really motivated – the time trial is my thing,” Wiggins said, adding he had worked hard on his riding position, breathing and study of the course. “I am very happy now.”
Wiggins has been the favorite since a dazzling stretch of three stage-race victories this season. At the Tour, he was fourth in 2009 and 24th in 2010. He crashed out last year.
Wiggins insists the three-week race is far from over, saying a crash or illness could douse his victory hopes. He also noted that Evans has promised to fight to the finish.
“It’s never over until the fat lady sings, and she hasn’t entered the building yet,” Wiggins said.
After 10 straight days of racing, the pack of 178 riders gets its first rest day today.
The field then faces two hard days in the Alps, including a summit finish Thursday that is likely to shake up the standings on the way to the July 22 finish in Paris.