CW’s top 30 British riders of 2009: No. 2

No. 2: Bradley Wiggins
Last year’s position:

Bradley Wiggins oozes class on a bike. His position and pedalling style are as close to perfection as you can hope to see. On the track that has always been evident but, until this year, we have never seen the best of him on the road.

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If in January you had put a tenner on Bradley Wiggins finishing in the top four in the Tour de France, you’d have pocketed enough more than enough cash to silence the inevitable sniggers.

After winning two gold medals on the track at the Olympics, the question was what Wiggins would do this year, with the next Games so far away.

Last winter, Garmin team boss Jonathan Vaughters was telling CW how he thought Wiggins would surprise a few people.

Early in the season Wiggins was denied victory by a flying Alberto Contador in the prologue time trial at Paris-Nice, then lost out again to Tony Martin at Criterium International before winning at the Three Days of De Panne.

A small but telling indicator of Wiggins’s desire to get properly stuck in on the road came at Ghent-Wevelgem, a race that was frantic and difficult from kilometre zero. He made the big break of the day, participated at the front end of the race, crashed, got up and chased back on and finished 23rd. It perhaps wasn’t a result that stood out as particularly outstanding but it showed the signs.

Although Garmin were pipped by Columbia in the Giro’s team time trial, Wiggins had a strong Giro, testing himself in the mountains in the first week and riding very well. Only a downpour in Rome ruined his chances of winning the final time trial.

On home roads, he delighted British fans by attacking with Chris Froome in the National Championships.

It was at the Tour de France that Wiggins exceded all external expectations, equalling Robert Millar’s fourth place in 1984, which is the best performance by a British rider. At Arcalis, Verbier and Mont Ventoux, Wiggins showed he deserved to be there among the world’s best. It was exhilarating stuff.

An untimely mechanical denied him a medal in the time trial at the World Championships, which would have capped a brilliant year.

Even the seemingly endless will he, won’t saga surrounding his future failed to detract from the great highs of those July days when a British rider challenged for a place on the Tour podium.

Now he’s signed to Team Sky, Wiggins has the luxury of a team built around him to help realise his Tour de France aspirations in 2010.

Bradley Wiggins: What he said
“There were times when Andy Schleck was attacking and it was horrible. I thought ‘I can’t go on. I can’t do this anymore…’ But then I thought more vividly of Tom [Simpson] and how he must have felt that day. It was like a reason not to give up. I felt like I was doing it more for his memory than anything.” Wiggins on his experiences on Mont Ventoux during the Tour

“I’m 29 now, it’s time I got my arse into gear. I’ve been going at this for nearly eight years and I’ve just played at the road, really,” Wiggins gets to grips with riding at the front at the Tour.

“I’m not going to stick my neck out and say I’m going to win the Tour de France in the next four years, but can I contend? Yes, I think I can. Can I win the Vuelta a Espana? Maybe. Can I win the Dauphine or Paris-Nice or the Tour of Catalonia? Yes, I can.”

Wiggins’ finest six days of 2009

May 13: Giro d’Italia stage, Alpe di Siusi
This was the day Wiggins put his new-found climbing strength to the test for the first time. The previous day he’d ridden strongly, but it was on the Alpe di Siusi that he rode like a GC rider, finishing 1-47 down on the stage winner Denis Menchov.

July 4: Tour de France time trial, Monaco
When the Tour route was confirmed, most pundits said Wiggins wouldn’t stand a chance on the hilly Monaco course. But he rode brilliantly, and was beaten only by super climber Alberto Contador, who was second, and demon descender Fabian Cancellara, who won.

July 7: Tour de France stage, Arcalis
Wiggins was never out of position on the climb to the first summit finish of the Tour in the Pyrenees and looked strong, confident and comfortable. In the closing kilometre he even attacked, stretching out the favourites and making their legs hurt.

July 19: Tour de France stage, Verbier
Wiggins’ best day on the Tour, arguably his finest performance on the road. This was when he began to look like real podium material. Verbier was a harder climb than it looked on the paper profile and the racing was the least controlled of what had been a very straight-jacketed fight for the yellow jersey.

July 25: Tour de France stage, Mont Ventoux
Mont Ventoux scares even the most seasoned grand tour contenders, but Wiggins stood up to the challenge and dug deep to keep his fourth place overall by just three seconds from Frank Schleck.

September 6: National time trial championship
Wiggins had not won the national time trial title before. He crushed Michael Hutchinson, almost unbeatable on the domestic scene, by 2-19, and towed Matt Bottrill round for much of the second lap.

4th overall Tour de France
3rd Tour de France time trial, Monaco
5th Tour de France stage, Verbier
6th Tour de France time trial, Annecy
10th Tour de France stage, Mont Ventoux
National time trial champion
1st Three Days of De Panne time trial
2nd Giro d’Italia time trial, Rome
2nd Paris-Nice prologue time trial
23rd Ghent-Wevelgem
25th Paris-Roubaix
1st overall Jayco Herald Sun Tour
stage win, Jayco Herald Sun Tour

Bradley Wiggins, Team Sky 2010 launch

Bradley Wiggins, Lance Armstrong, Tour de France 2009 stage 9