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CHARTRES, France (AFP) — Bradley Wiggins virtually secured Great Britain’s first Tour de France victory on Saturday after winning the final individual time trial.
“I wanted to go out and finish with a bang. You couldn’t write a better script, really,” said the Sky captain, who clocked a winning time of one hour, four minutes and 13 seconds for the 53.5km course.
In the first time trial, a 41.5km race against the clock on stage 9, Wiggins won the stage and took nearly two minutes from defending champion Cadel Evans (BMC Racing Team). He went into Sunday’s 53.5km race against the clock with a lead of 2:05 over Sky teammate Chris Froome.
And after a smooth, controlled ride over a course lined with hundreds of British flags emblazoned with good-luck messages, the 32-year-old Englishman increased his advantage over the Kenya-born Briton.
Froome, who finished second on the first time trial at 35 seconds behind Wiggins, finished second once more on Saturday, this time 1:16 down on his team captain.
“I’m very happy. Our objective was to come here and win the Tour with Bradley, and that’s what we have done,” said Froome, who outshone Wiggins on several of the race’s tough climbs.
“For me to come second is a big bonus.”
Wiggins will go into Sunday’s final stage to Paris — which usually does not see a battle for the yellow jersey — with an overall lead of 3:21 on Froome, who in turn has a lead of more than three minutes on third-placed Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale), who finished 16th at 3:38 and now sits 6:19 back on the overall.
Barring catastrophe, the Londoner will become Britain’s first Tour champion.
“I don’t know what to say. Only one more day to go, and I’ve won the yellow jersey,” said an emotional Wiggins.
“I’ve a lot of emotions and a lot of relief it’s finished. It’s a dream come true, but I’ve been working to win this for the past five years. The job is done, almost.”
Sky team manager Dave Brailsford added: “We made it our objective to win this race within five years with a clean, British rider, and that’s what we’ve done.
“It might be a surprise to everyone else, but it’s not a surprise to us.”
Defending champion Evans, meanwhile, had another day to forget.
He started the day in sixth place overall, nearly 10 minutes behind Wiggins, and finished 52nd at 5:54 to drop to seventh overall, 15:51 behind the leader.
Having been upstaged by teammate Tejay Van Garderen in the mountains, Evans saw the young American overtake him on the stage despite starting three minutes earlier.
Van Garderen is set to finish fifth overall at 11:04 behind Wiggins and has virtually secured the white jersey for the race’s best-placed rider age 25 and under.
Evans, admitting he has had an “off year,” added: “I came in with really high expectations and as the race went on my chances lessened and lessened, and I had to adjust to that.
“By the time today came I was just hoping to hold my place on GC. But I started the day empty, I started a few days here now empty, and I was riding within my limits in that regard.
Compared to last year, when he erased his two previous runner-up finishes with a maiden win for Australia, Evans could not feel any more different.
“I couldn’t think of a more enormous contrast. Last year was a lifetime dream come true,” he said. “There’s no comparison at all.”
Editor’s note: Stay tuned for more from the 2012 Tour de France.