LA PLANCHE DES BELLES FILLES, France (VN) — Bradley Wiggins rode the Sky train into the lead of the Tour de France on Saturday in the Vosges Mountains. A year ago, as he likes to remind journalists, he was in a hospital in Châteauroux with a cracked collarbone.
Sky general manager David Brailsford spoke with him that evening and the two plotted a comeback. They picked up the pieces and put them together, from last year’s crash to Saturday’s climb up La Planche des Belles Filles. Here’s how it happened:
Wiggins went down as part of a bone-breaking first week of the 2011 Tour de France, fracturing a collarbone in stage 7 to Châteauroux.
Going into stage 7 this year, Wiggins was intact and it was the other contenders who were hitting the deck and abandoning the race.
“I’m pleased to be in this position, there are other guys out of the races due to crashes,” Wiggins said on Saturday. “I feel fortunate just to get through the first week, I’d much rather be yellow than in the hospital.”
The comeback begins
Wiggins started the Vuelta a España six weeks after his crash in the Tour. The idea was to do three weeks flat out and test himself in the world championships, a dry run for the Tour and Olympic time trial in 2012. He placed third overall in the Vuelta and took the silver medal in the worlds. Teammate Froome placed second overall in the Vuelta and is showing similar stellar form at the 2012 Tour — but after winning stage 7, he has vowed to give his all for Wiggins.
“He got his stage win,” Wiggins said. “That’s good since he’s going to be working for me in the next two weeks.”
Wiggins, Froome and several other key helpers started training at altitude on Spain’s island of Tenerife. Wiggins made two visits of two weeks each, basing himself at 2165 meters.
“The training is harder than the racing,” team director Sean Yates told VeloNews. “When push comes to shove in a race, it’s going to be hard, but 99 percent of the time the training is harder than the racing.”
Wiggins returned from his last trip to Tenerife at the end of May. He went on to win the Critérium du Dauphiné, adding to GC wins earlier in the year in Paris-Nice and the Tour de Romandie — a triple crown never seen in cycling.
After suffering on the Vuelta’s steeps, Wiggins went to work on his upper body and core strength over the winter.
“I just didn’t have upper-body strength, particularly on the side where I broke my collarbone. It was something I worked a lot on this winter in the gym,” Wiggins explained. “It paid dividends. We really trained to each demand in this race, really analyzed it and covered every area.”
Sky signed Richie Porte and Kanstantsin Siutsou to complement Mick Rogers and Chris Froome. These men drove Wiggins through the Paris-Nice-Romandie-Dauphiné triple.
Siutsou was forced out of the Tour with a fractured tibia after Friday’s massive pileup. But Rogers, Porte and then Froome played key roles on Saturday, making it impossible for others to break Wiggins’ stranglehold.
“I was dictating the pace, I just wanted to keep a high threshold and not go too much into the red,” Wiggins said. “I know that if someone wanted to attack off that pace they’d have to be going quite a bit more, which I know is not really sustainable because we were riding at 470 to 480 watts.”
The final touch
Sky’s campaign to put Wiggins in yellow included previewing some of the key stages. After the final Dauphiné leg to Châtel, Wiggins and his teammates stayed in France and rode the Planche des Belles Filles stage finish.