BESANCON, France - Bradley Wiggins showed he's the man to beat at the Tour de France, winning the first big time trial yesterday and cementing his hold on the yellow jersey he wants to take home in two weeks.
The three-time Olympic track champion is trying to become the first British champion of cycling's premier event. He dominated yesterday's race against the clock - a discipline he loves - in the 41.5-kilometer ninth stage between Arc-et-Senans and Besancon.
"That was my physical best out there," Wiggins said on French TV after his first stage victory in the Tour. "It's probably my best time trial ever."
Christopher Froome, his Sky teammate and countryman who won Saturday's seventh stage, was second - 35 seconds behind. Their 1-2 punch was especially hard on Australian Cadel Evans, the defending champion, who finished 1:43 behind Wiggins in sixth.
Evans remains second overall, trailing Wiggins by 1:53. Froome jumped to third, from sixth, and is 2:07 behind his teammate.
"I was really motivated - the time trial is my thing," Wiggins said, adding he had worked hard on his riding position, breathing and study of the course.
Overall, Italy's Vincenzo Nibali is in fourth, 2:23 behind, Denis Menchov of Russia is fifth, 3:02 back, and Spain's Haimar Zubeldia sits sixth, 3:19 off the leader's pace.
Wiggins insisted the three-week race is far from over, saying a crash or illness could douse his victory hopes. He also noted that Evans has vowed to fight to the finish.
"It's never over until the fat lady sings, and she hasn't entered the building yet," he said.
But the stage raises questions about whether Evans - or anyone else - can challenge Wiggins and his team, which has shown strength in both the climbs and time trials that often determine the Tour winner.
Riders set off one by one down the starter's ramp for the time trial. By the first time check, at 16.5 kilometers, Evans was more than a minute slower than Wiggins, but was able to limit the damage. On one of the warmest days so far this Tour, many riders crossed the finish with white spittle ringing their lips, a sign of dehydration. Unlike usual road stages, time trials require solo efforts, placing additional importance on form, concentration and rhythm.
Evans was "a little bit disappointed" but insisted the Tour wasn't over. "I rode not my best time trial, but certainly not a bad one," he said, adding Sky had "two very, very, very strong riders today."
After 10 straight days of racing, the 178-rider pack gets its first rest day Tuesday. The field then faces two hard days in the Alps, including a summit finish Thursday that is likely to shake up the standings. The Tour ends July 22 in Paris.
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