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WESTLAKE VILLAGE, Calif. (VN) — Bradley Wiggins (Sky) won this year’s Amgen Tour of California in trademark style. He seized the race lead — and took a stage win — on the strength of his time trial and with the help of a solid team, successfully defended the yellow jersey on the race’s two mountaintop finishes. He rode into the yellow jersey on stage 2, and held it all the way to the finish in Thousand Oaks.
To call the outcome predictable is to overlook the talent such consistent riding requires. It was simply Wiggins, one of the world’s top riders, doing what he does best.
“It’s nice to know that the hard work pays off and you get rewards for it,” Wiggins said. “Winning something like this, [after] all the months of sacrifice in the winter months. You know, six months ago, you think, well, I’d like to win the Tour of California. But then to get here and go through the whole thing, it’s a nice feeling.”
If there was a moment of vulnerability, it was perhaps on Mount Diablo. There, Joe Dombrowski and Josh Edmondson took the climb out too hard, too early, perhaps due to inexperience or to youthful exuberance. That effort left Wiggins on his own when the race reached the upper slopes of the climb. Wiggins towed the field for 6 kilometers before losing 20 seconds off his lead to stage winner Rohan Dennis (Garmin-Sharp).
Dennis succeeded in adding intrigue to the yellow jersey contest, but he never really threatened Wiggins. On the road to Mountain High, the Sky climbers formed an impregnable fortress, and Dennis said after the stage that he never even thought of attacking. He simply couldn’t, not when Dombrowski drove so relentlessly on the front. Dennis held on to finish within two seconds of Wiggins at Mountain High, but his chances of overall victory evaporated.
Wiggins was quick to credit his team for supporting him throughout the week. It’s no easy task defending the race lead nearly from the first stage to the last, and Sky brought a number of young riders to California this year. Josh Edmondson, 21, Ian Boswell, 23, and Joe Dombrowski, 23, all played key roles supporting Wiggins.
“You’re nothing without a team behind you and every day, they put themselves on the line and rode,” said Wiggins. “They really raised their game, especially the young guys. I’m very grateful to them.”
Throughout the race, Wiggins rode with the kind of metronomic consistency that helped win him the 2012 Tour de France. Joe Dombrowski, one of Sky’s strongest climbers at the Tour of California, was amazed by Wiggins. “He’s a machine, just in the saddle, 100 cadence,” said Dombrowski. “He’s unbelievable!” On the final day, the Tour of California raced up the Rock Store climb three times, and Dombrowski, no slouch in the hills, said he struggled to hold Wiggins’ wheel on the final ascent.
What comes next for Wiggins remains an open question. “I’ve been on the path to Roubaix and to this, that’s been my goal,” he said. “After this, I’ve never really known what comes next in terms of race program.” Wiggins finished ninth on the cobbles at Paris-Roubaix and has now won the Tour of California, a long-held goal for the season.
Of course, the elephant in the room is the Tour de France, and the question of whether Wiggins will be a part of Sky’s Tour de France team, which is certain to be led by 2013 Tour winner Chris Froome. Wiggins was quick to say that he would gladly ride for Froome, given the chance. But it is far from clear whether he will be there when the Tour departs from Leeds.
“It’s Chris’ team, really, and it’s built about him,” he said. “We still haven’t raced together all year, and he’s been successful the last few weeks with the team he’s had around him. Obviously, I’d love to be on the start line in Britain, [but] it’s not just about being at the start line. It’s about Chris being confident in the team he has.”
Wiggins downplayed the perception that there is conflict between Froome and him. “We’re just two very competitive guys going for the same spot,” he said.
He also acknowledged the team’s attention has switched away from him to Froome. “I don’t want to say I was abandoned, I think that’s the wrong word,” Wiggins said. “But I look after myself now and I go out and train and stop at garages and fill up water bottles and things like that.”
Wiggins seems content with the turn his career has taken and the relative autonomy it has brought him.
One project that could attract Wiggins is the hour record, thanks to last week’s announcement from the UCI of new rules for the test. Riders may now use a standard road time trial position. For the past 10 years, the hour record required riding a road bike in the style of Eddy Merckx. The rule change intrigued Wiggins, though he was not ready to commit just yet.
“I’ve only found out [last] week that they’ve changed the rules,” he said. “And with that rule change, it would be something I would maybe consider. I’ve always said that I wanted to go for it, just to compare myself to [Miguel] Indurain.”
Wiggins does believe the rule change could revive interest in the hour record among the current generation of riders. “But you don’t get anything for it,” he said. “Teams aren’t going to pay you more money because you’re the hour record holder.” Wiggins also suggested that because of the demands of chasing WorldTour points, teams might be slow to support the lengthy preparation the hour record requires.
With the race successfully won, Wiggins seemed relaxed after the Tour of California’s final stage in Thousand Oaks. “When you’re in this position, and you’ve won, the sacrifices feel worthwhile,” he said. “But you’re riding a tightrope all the time, and anything could have happened in the last few days and then it’s a waste of time.”
Though he’d clearly love to start the Tour de France in his home country come July, Wiggins appeared content to take whatever comes.
“I’ve been fortunate to have a fantastic career up to this point,” he said. “If I had to stop now, I’d still be incredibly happy with what I’ve achieved.”