With only five stages left for Bradley Wiggins, the bookies make him hot favourite to win the Tour de France. Channel 4 News looks at the road ahead for the Briton who has led the race for nine days.
At the end of stage 15 Wiggins retains a two-minute lead over his nearest competitors, teammate Chris Froome, Italian Vincenzo Nibali and title holder Cadel Evans.
Ahead of Wiggins lie two days of steep climbs in the Pyrenees before the course flattens out on the route to Paris and the Tour de France finish line.
Proven climbers Nibali and Evans will have their best chance to gain time on Wiggins in the last mountainous stage of the competition – though doing this will not be easy against the recent winner of the mountainous Criterion du Dauphine.
And former British Tour de France competitor Adrian Timmis, who rode in the 1987 race, says Wiggins has time to play with against his rivals.
It now looks a formality that he will be on top of the podium in Paris on Sunday. Gary Burton, Coral
“Bradley proved himself as a climber in the Alps, but the Pyrenees is slightly different – the climbs are slightly steeper,” he said. “But Bradley knows how much time he’s got.
“He can lose a minute to the climbers in the mountains because he will be able to put two minutes back on to Evans and Nibali later on.”
Wiggins has already broken the British record for consecutive days wearing the yellow jersey, which is worn by the fastest individual over all the stages. He was also hailed this week as “Le Gentleman” when he slowed down the “peloton”, the main group of riders which he was leading, after other cyclists fell victim to tacks left on the road by saboteurs.
Bookmakers Coral are putting odds of 1-8 on Wiggins winning the race, with spokesman Gary Burton saying: “Wiggins is edging closer to the grand prize, and the way both he and his team are riding, it now looks a formality that he will be on top of the podium in Paris on Sunday.”
Wiggins is arguably in the best condition of his career, and his wins at Paris-Nice and Tour de Romandie meant he was favourite to win going into the Tour.
However, it appears other factors mean the odds have been stacked more in favour of Wiggins and the British-dominated Team Sky.
Absences: Without detracting from Wiggins’s abilities, he has benefited from the absence of some big names from this year’s race. In February Alberto Contador, Tour de France victor in 2010, was stripped of his title and banned from racing for two years for doping.
Andy Schlek, who was awarded the 2010 title after Contador’s suspension, is out of the race with a pelvic injury – which will also keep him out of the London 2012 Olympics and Paralympic Games.
Doping: Timmis believes that the Tour de France has “cleaned up” in recent years, and that this has helped British cyclists. “We’re a bit isolated over here,” he said. “I have had friends who have gone to cycle with teams on the continent and have come back very disillusioned by it all.”
The team: The team members at the Tour de France revolve around the team leader, and are ready to make sacrifices to ensure a win for that leader. Wiggins is backed up by rising star and second-placed cyclist Chris Froome, as well as Mark Cavendish, the only Brit to ever win the sprinters’ green jersey at the Tour de France.
Froome and Cavendish will both compete alongside Wiggins at the 2012 Olympics Games. Also racing there will be David Millar, of Garmin Sharp and a stage winner from this year’s Tour.
Money: In 1998 UK Sport began investing lottery money and funds from the Treasury in Olympic sport, including cycling. Around £100m goes into the sports. The money has gone into “marginal wins” says Timmis – such as nutrition. With seven members of Team Sky representing Great Britain at the forthcoming Olympic Games, it is likely the benefits will have trickled through.
Following a rest day the cyclists face a varied five days until they arrive in Paris.
Day 19: A 197km ride from Pau to Bagneres-de-Luchon through the Pyrenees. The day starts 191m above sea level and finishes 632m above sea level. On the way, however, the cyclists have to climb four peaks – the largest of which is 2,115m.
Day 20: The second mountainous day, from Bagneres-de-Luchon to Peyragudes, includes several peaks, the highest of which is 1,755m. Unlike the day before which ended on a descent, the risers will finish the day by climbing to a 1,605m peak and in total the cyclists travel 143.5km.
Day 21: The 222.5km ride from Blagnac to Brive-la-Gaillarde is a strategically important one ahead of the time trial and is a “golden opportunity” for the sprinters to shine.
Day 22: Bonneval to Chartes is a time trial for the cyclists and totals 53.5km.
Day 23: The grand finale sees the cyclists race from Rambouillet to the Champs Elysee in Paris.