BLAGNAC, France (VN) — The Tour de France’s mountains fade into the rearview mirror on Friday. All that is left is for the riders to roll towards Paris and celebrate the winner nearly everyone predicted last month: Bradley Wiggins. Liquigas-Cannondale veteran Ivan Basso says that in retrospect, there was never a chance to dispatch the British tandem in the high mountains.
The race topped the plateau at Peyragudes yesterday. Wiggins and Sky teammate, Chris Froome maintained their dominant positions over their rivals and they sit first and second, respectively. There is little that can change that over the next three days.
Wiggins said after the ride, “I haven’t dropped out of the Tour in the first two of the GC for three weeks now, and no one’s actually said, ‘You know what Brad, good on you, mate.’”
Basso was listening.
The 34-year-old Italian raced with Lance Armstrong before being busted for links to Operación Puerto and serving a doping ban. In that time, he placed second twice behind Armstrong on the podium in the Tour. He also won the Giro d’Italia in 2006 and in his comeback after his doping ban, in 2010. He now works for teammate Vincenzo Nibali, but has been blown away by Sky’s performance.
Basso saw Wiggins win Paris-Nice, Tour de Romandie and Critérium du Dauphiné firsthand this year. No one in cycling had ever won those three stage races in one year. After an exhausting effort over the Col du Grand Colombier last week, he called Wiggins a champion.
“I don’t judge Sky for just what they did this spring,” Basso told VeloNews. “For me, what they did at the Vuelta was incredible. Wiggins pulled off a miracle: crashed at the Tour, broke his collarbone and went strongly there. Only a champion can do that. You understand? They showed that they can handle three weeks, they have the ability to manage a race. Then, don’t forget, there are still 53 kilometers [of time trialing] to race here!”
To be fair, Basso’s Liquigas team rose to the occasion this week over the last two mountain days. He found his legs and young German, Dominik Nerz came to the forefront. They took over, tried to match Sky’s march through France and put Nibali in the position to win the overall.
But leaving the Pyrénées, Nibali sits third overall, at 2:41. He lost 18 seconds yesterday, maybe paying for Thursday when he attacked on the Col de Peyresourde. Three or four times, he tried to weaken Sky’s hold on the day’s final of four big climbs. He was unable.
“Look. It’s the same discussion as always, it’s like watching the Tour when Lance [Armstrong] or [Miguel] Indurain raced. You could try to attack, get ahead, but then what are you going to do? Just to have a laugh?” Basso said, sitting on the steps of the team bus.
“If he [Wiggins] goes as they have been, where Richie Porte is pulling and you are on the wheel pushing 420 watts, then explain to me, where are you going to go?
“They’ve done well to bring their captain and vice captain in their best condition. They are doing their work to make sure that those two are protected, nether too fast nor too slow. Like I said, they’re riders with big balls.”