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Rating the Tour de France favorites, from W(iggins) to Z

Bradley Wiggins (GBR), Sky ★★★★★

Bradley Wiggins won over a lot of fans after spending more than two weeks in yellow this spring. The Briton’s historic treble of wins at Paris-Nice, Tour de Romandie and the Critérium du Dauphiné has his believers confident that Wiggins will wear yellow on the Champs-Élysées.

And if he does, he may have defending champion Cadel Evans to thank for showing him the way.

“It was inspirational watching Cadel giving his all, day in, day out,” Wiggins told the media this week in Mallorca, Spain. “He had a few bad days; he had a wobbly moment on the Télégraphe climb, but fought back and got himself into a position to win at the final time trial. I’ve always thought that is perhaps the way I could win the Tour one day.”

Wiggins, a gold medalist on the track in Beijing in 2008, continues to evolve from a rider once built more for prologues than 25km climbs. While this year’s course, featuring more than 100km of time trials, is more suited to him than any over the last half-decade, Wiggins knows as well as anyone that the Tour is won by climbers who can time trial. Historically, he has been the opposite.

The 2012 season has proven his best yet — and one of the best in history. He’s won three of the five races he’s entered, finishing third with a stage win at the Volta ao Algarve in February and withdrawing in miserable weather at the Volta a Catalunya in March.

Wiggins has worked at altitude in Tenerife over three separate training camps this spring and made his final build-up to the Tour in Mallorca, Spain. If his work on the climbs has paid off, however, his strength in the time trial and even more so, his team strength, will be what sets Wiggins apart from his competitors.

If he can hang on with the top GC contenders, or at least limit his losses, when the race climbs the Col de Peyresourde twice in two days, the 53.5km penultimate stage time trial will be where Wiggins can distance his competition.

Wiggins’ team is by no means a gaggle of rookies, and the British squad announced its intentions loudly when it announced its roster this week. While world champion Mark Cavendish will have Bernhard Eisel, Edvald Boasson Hagen and Christian Knees by his side, the remainder of Sky’s Tour nine is built to deliver the maillot jaune to Paris. Wiggins will have last year’s Vuelta a España second-place Chris Froome, Richie Porte, Michael Rogers and Kanstantsin Siutsou around him in the mountains — these five men make Sky one of the three strongest GC-focused teams in the race, along with BMC Racing and RadioShack-Nissan.

“I’ve been waiting for this moment for a long time and I’ll do everything I can to win the Tour de France,” said Wiggins. “Hopefully we can do the business for ourselves and our fans, and become the most successful British-based cycling team ever.”

Coming off an historic spring run and with a supporting cast like he has, Wiggins is the top favorite for yellow in Paris. If he comes through, Sky would follow Evans’ first Aussie victory in 2011 with the first for the English. He’s already worn yellow on 18 days this year; what’s a few more?

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