CYCLING
Posted: Tue July 17, 2012 7:22PM; Updated: Tue July 17, 2012 7:22PM

Wiggins confident, cautious as Tour finale nears

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PAU, France (AP) -- With five racing days left, Bradley Wiggins of Britain insists the Tour de France isn't over, that trouble could strike any time and that he'll take things as they come.

"Whatever happens, happens," he said during Tuesday's rest day.

But given his current grip on the yellow jersey, Wiggins could be forgiven for feeling he's got Britain's first victory at cycling's main event already wrapped up.

As the race heads into the Pyrenees on Wednesday, the 32-year-old Sky leader has many advantages in hand. The second-place rider is his own teammate and compatriot, Christopher Froome, who is 2 minutes, 5 seconds behind. Vicenzo Nibali of Italy is third, 2:23 behind, but he's not as good as Wiggins in time-trials.

Sky was virtually indomitable in the Alps, and seems ready to be so again in the Pyrenees. Then Wiggins will try to wrap things up on his own in the Stage 19 time-trial on the eve of the finish in Paris.

After two weeks of hard racing, nobody's legs are fresh.

"I don't really fear anything," he told reporters. "It's really just a case of going out and doing the performance. ... Ultimately it's just a bike race."

He's also thinking about a calmer life out of the Tour spotlight.

"I'm just determined to go back to normal life... I understand some things will be different," Wiggins said. "It's nice to be recognized for achieving something in your life because so much of British culture is built up on people being famous for not achieving anything."

"It's nice in sport when people stop me in the street and respect you for something you achieved," he said.

A Tour victory would culminate his Sky team's methodical, long-laid approach to winning the Tour - the ultimate prize after a stellar year for Wiggins, that includes wins at Paris-Nice, Tour de Romandie and Criterium du Dauphine.

It would be the biggest victory of his career, even overshadowing his three Olympic track gold medals, he said.

"This is the Tour de France. It doesn't get any bigger than this," he said.

Looking back on an illustrious career, Wiggins can already identify some of the major turning points: His move to the U.S. Garmin team in 2009, his tough time in the Tour that year when his grandfather died (he still placed fourth overall), his maturing as a family man after years of drinking and partying.

"Age helps a lot," he said. "Things you did to entertain yourself 10 years ago don't apply now when you're 32, and your kids are nearly 10 - you know, nightclubbing and things like that."

He's also grown accustomed to blocking out the noise and distractions that could thwart his title bid.

"You get really good at ignoring people. I think it is an incredible bubble to be in, but in a nice way," he said. "But as a kid you dream of being in this position, so it's fantastic."

Wiggins said moving to Garmin three years ago helped because he felt freer at the American team than when he was at French squad Cofidis in the mid-2000s, when doping scandals were increasingly hurting the sport's image. He said some grumbled about a "two-speed" sport: dopers, and everybody else.

"There was an incredibly negative atmosphere at times - toward everybody else," he said. "Once that's constantly drilled into you all the time, you start to believe it eventually."

The sport's latest positive doping test announced Tuesday, on last year's third-place finisher Frank Schleck, was a reminder of the doping plight that could still overshadow Wiggins apparent march toward victory.

While at Garmin, a team that has been vocal about the fight against doping, Wiggins started to believe in his own ability to win drug-free.

"I was around people like Christian Vande Velde, who finished fifth in the Tour. He was someone you could believe in," he said. "God, `if Christian can do it then I can do it."'

"And that's all it takes, really, just one person, and then you inspire the next generation to do it," Wiggins said.

Copyright 2014 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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