’95 percent’ Wiggins comes of age with Paris-Nice win

Team Sky throws its hat in the ring for yellow in July with commanding performance

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NICE, France (VN) – Bradley Wiggins (Sky) confirmed he will be one of the top favorites for July’s Tour de France with a dominant performance capped by victory in Sunday’s climbing time trial up Col d’Eze to win the 70th edition of Paris-Nice.

Wiggins says riding well this week, underscored by his eight-second overall win to Lieuwe Westra (Vacansoleil-DCM), is part of a master plan to arrive in top form to challenge for the yellow jersey in July.

“We have a plan, and we set off with this plan in November, to be in the best possible condition in July,” Wiggins said. “It will only get better. I’m still not race-weight yet. Paris-Nice was a big early-season goal; this was part of that plan. I’m now at 95 percent.”

Wiggins said Team Sky rode impeccably throughout the week, racing Paris-Nice as if it were the Tour by taking control of the race, defending his leader’s jersey and keeping him out of trouble.

Geraint Thomas helped drive Wiggins into the decisive, stage-two breakaway and Richie Porte set a brutal pace up La Croix Neuve above Mende to neutralize the threat from Alejandro Valverde (Movistar).

The team rode at the front to keep Wiggins out of trouble in Friday’s and Saturday’s tricky transition stages; Omega Pharma-Quick Step’s Levi Leipheimer, third overall, tumbled out of contention Saturday with three crashes.

“This week we raced as if it were the Tour de France,” he said. “The team transcended anything it’s done before in defending the jersey. Now we have a great team that’s 100 percent behind me and confident in me.”

On Sunday, Wiggins delivered a perfect time trial performance, bettering the surprising Westra by two seconds to pull the double.

Wiggins becomes the first British rider since Tom Simpson to win Paris-Nice. Simpson won in 1967, just months before he died on the slopes of Mont Ventoux.

For Wiggins, who is a student of the history of the sport, joining the list of Paris-Nice winners means a lot.

“It’s f—ing enormous,” Wiggins said of winning Paris-Nice. “To follow in the footsteps of Tom Simpson and everyone else that’s on that list — Merckx, Hinault, Indurain — it’s a massive thing. To put my name on that list is an absolute honor.”

With his win last year at the Criterium du Dauphiné, Wiggins has now won the most important stage races in France. Except one: the Tour de France.

If the way Wiggins raced this week is indicative of how he will race come July, he could soon be adding his name to that list of winners as well.

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