Wiggins' rivals ready to attack in Alps stage
ARECHES, France (AP) - ALBERTVILLE, France (AP) - Bradley Wiggins' outburst in his first day in yellow showed that the Tour de France leader's jersey didn't shield him from stress.
As the peloton prepares to set off for the first big mountain stage of the Tour, Wiggins' rivals hope to find more dents in his armor.
The Tour's 11th stage on Thursday between Albertville and the ski resort of La Toussuire, with its uphill finish after two beyond classification climbs, appears to be the last chance for the handful of riders still in contention.
Midway through the race, Wiggins' best climbing rivals are well off the pace. The former track Olympic champion leads Cadel Evans by 1 minute and 53 seconds. Vincenzo Nibali sits in 4th place, 2:23 back, and Denis Menchov is fifth, 3:02 behind.
Seven-time Tour winner Lance Armstrong once said one just needs one attack in the mountains and two good time trials to win cycling's most prestigious race. Wiggins might win it just on his time trials abilities.
The former pursuer took hold of the race during the first long race against the clock earlier this week in Besancon and played it conservative in Wednesday's first Alpine stage, sticking with his rivals apart from outsider Juergen Van Den Broeck, who gained 32 seconds. The Belgian rider is eighth overall, 4:48 behind.
Nibali and Evans have no realistic chance to erase their deficit in the remaining time trial scheduled in week 3 and have promised to attack Wiggins relentlessly in the mountains.
"Sky have really built a team exactly for this course and this kind of a situation, which leaves opportunities (to attack) few and far between,'' Evans said. "But I think the more attacking riders will be more rewarded tomorrow.''
Both Evans and Nibali are better downhillers than the Brit but lack the strength of Wiggins' Sky team to support their bid.
"Wiggins and Sky remind me of the years when Miguel Indurain and Lance Armstrong were on the Tour,'' said veteran Ivan Basso, now Nibali's lieutenant. "They are so strong that it's always difficult to attack. You can take 500 meters, but they always catch you at the end.''
Nibali is talked about as one the race's best climbers, not at least by himself, telling L'Equipe newspaper last week that he wasn't impressed by Wiggins' record.
There was another episode in their spat on Wednesday, when Nibali accused the 32-year-old Londoner of not showing him enough respect. Nibali said Wiggins taunted him at the finish after the Sicilian's breakaway attempt failed.
Frenchman Thomas Voeckler won the stage ahead of Michele Scarponi of Italy, and Jens Voigt of Germany.
During the race leader's daily news conference, Wiggins said he understood questions on doping in cycling "from some parts of the media,'' but insisted he got to where he is through hard work.
It was in a response to a question about people doubting his performances that Wiggins lost his temper and lashed out at anonymous critics in a foul-mouthed tirade last weekend. He was more relaxed on Wednesday when addressing the problem of doping in cycling.
"I don't feel like I have to sit here and justify to everyone ... To me, it's them (trashing) everything I've done by just saying, `he's cheating' - or whatever,'' he said. And that's what really gets to me.''
Wiggins also echoed comments in the past by Armstrong, who repeatedly said he never failed a drug test and said during his career that he was the world's most-tested athlete for doping.
"Tested by the UCI - God knows how many times a year, God knows how many times on this race, and on the Dauphine; blood tested every morning and all that,'' Wiggins said, referring to international cycling's governing body UCI and the Criterium du Dauphine race. "What more can I do than that?''
Greg Keller contributed in Areches
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