Tour favorite Wiggins happy with shift in luck
SAINT-QUENTIN, France (AP) - SAINT-QUENTIN, France (AP) - The avalanche of pileups and injuries that marred the first week of the Tour de France has brought back bad memories for overall title contender Bradley Wiggins.
The former Olympic track champion, who crashed out of last year's race with a broken collarbone, is just happy luck seems to have finally chosen his side.
"It's funny how I've got all the luck,'' Wiggins said after Thursday's fifth stage won by German sprinter Andre Greipel. "I think I'm due a bit of luck. We just get on with it.''
Wiggins has been largely silent through the race's first week and had not spoken to the media since the prologue in Liege, Belgium, last weekend.
The day he chose to open up, however, his comments were a bit drowned out by decade-old doping allegations against Lance Armstrong, after Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf reported Jonathan Vaughters and four other former Armstrong teammates were given six-month bans to begin in late September. Vaughters dismissed the report as "completely untrue.''
Wiggins didn't comment on the report, focusing instead on the race he has dreamt about since his teen years.
Crashes have already claimed one of his key teammate, Kanstantsin Sivtsov, the first of four riders knocked out of the Tour so far.
"Last year I realized where the real world is and who your real friends are when you crash out of the Tour de France,'' he said. "The race carries on the next day without you.''
Wiggins' hopes of bettering his fourth-place showing in the 2009 Tour were spoiled last year when he crashed during a flat stage after getting caught in a huge pileup at the back of the peloton.
On Thursday, his team worked to keep him at the front and safely out of danger, a strategy that paid off as several other riders hit the ground on slippery roads.
"It was nice for me to be able to hit the front and open up a little bit,'' he said. "You risk detraining a bit in the first week because it's so easy in the peloton, you're literally doing nothing at times.''
Wiggins arrived at the Tour in the form of his life following a hat-trick of important victories never achieved in the same season. The skinny English dandy - he loves British mod music from the Sixties, sports mutton chop sideburns and enjoys a beer during the offseason - won Paris-Nice, The Tour of Romandie and the Criterium du Dauphine in the four months preceding the Tour.
Memories of last year's crash weighed on Wiggins and helped define the team strategy for Thursday's 122-mile stage.
"Just as a unit, we wanted to be a bit more present,'' he said. "It was not necessarily about placing Cav (ace sprinter Mark Cavendish) today, but also myself.''
The strategy worked and Wiggins crossed the finish line in the same time as the stage winner Greipel and other favorites such as defending Tour champion Cadel Evans.
After putting on an impressive display during the race prologue, Wiggins stands second in the overall standings, 7 seconds behind Fabian Cancellara of Switzerland. Evans is seventh, 17 seconds off the pace.
Greipel led a chaotic bunch sprint into Saint-Quentin to earn his second straight stage victory, besting archrival world champion Cavendish, who finished fifth.
The barreling pack overtook three breakaway riders with barely 100 meters left, and Greipel wheeled out in front a split-second ahead of Matt Goss of Australia, who was second, as Juan Jose Haedo of Argentina took third.
Like in Greipel's sprint-finish victory a day before, a late crash tarnished the stage, and he was glad to avoid a spill two days in a row.
"Somehow I stayed on my bike,'' Greipel said. "It was quite a tough finish there ... and it was also luck on our part to catch the breakaway.''
By holding the lead, Cancellara earned the right to wear the coveted yellow jersey for the 27th time in his career, a record for a rider who has never won the Tour.
"When you make history in this kind of way at the Tour, it's more special,'' said Cancellara, a time-trial specialist and the only man to wear yellow this year since he won Saturday's opening prologue.
As sprinters jockeyed for position with just nearly 2 miles left, Tyler Farrar of the United States tumbled in the middle of the pack. But his bike kept on going, and brought down at least two other riders including Peter Sagan of Slovakia, the winner of the first and third stages.
Farrar later straggled across the line alone, blood dripping down his right elbow and knee. He then stormed into the bus of the Argos-Shimano team, looking for sprinter Tom Veelers. Farrar angrily shouted, "You don't do that to someone!''
Friday's sixth stage - a 129-mile jaunt from Epernay in the Champagne country to Metz - offers the last leg in the northern flats this week to favor sprinters, before a steep uphill finish on Saturday.
Associated Press writers Greg Keller and Jamey Keaten contributed to this report.