There was an unpleasant sense of déjà-vu at the start of stage 16. Frank Schleck's positive drug test continued a dishonourable Tour de France tradition of rest day drug busts. Schleck himself denies taking any banned substance and withdrew from the race awaiting the result of his 'B' sample. But it was a reminder of cycling's darker days ahead of this year's showpiece. A punishing 197 km stage combining four substantial climbs, including the Col du Tourmalet, one of professional cycling's great arenas. If there was ever a stage to truly test Bradley Wiggins this was it.
But, like every big challenge in the tour so far it was one Bradley Wiggins and Team Sky passed. In fact there was a sense of anti-climax as the British team almost turned the crucial stage into a procession. There were attacks from Vincenzo Nibali on the final climb. But Bradley Wiggins was able to shut them down, first with the help of teammate Chris Froome, and then by himself. And on neither occasion did Wiggins look troubled.
The battle for the yellow jersey may have been a disappointment, at least for neutrals. But that is not to say there was not any action. Thomas Voeckler ensured there was plenty of excitement. The Frenchman's riding is a throwback to a black and white era. He is a cyclist who simply wants to attack and win stages whenever possible. And that is what he did on the summit of the Tourmalet when he left the break along with compatriot Brice Feillu before going it alone with 22km to go. He crossed the line 1'40" ahead of any other rider having given everything he had to take the win.
If Frank Schleck's positive test and Voeckler's heroics were reminders of cycling's past both bad and good. Wiggins and Sky are cycling's present. Their achievements thus far have been an advert for modern training methods and ruthless efficiency. Team Principle, Dave Brailsford, recently attributed their dominance to 'intellectual doping', and it will be interesting to see how other teams respond in the future. But for now they are on a slightly different level.
In fact, it could be argued that the only person who could really put the brake on Wiggins is his team mate, and fellow Brit, Chris Froome. A future tour contender he has occasionally looked even stronger than leader Wiggins. But it should be remembered that it is arguably easier to ride without the pressure and expectation of the yellow jersey.
Froome's time may come but for now Wiggins is leader. He epitomises what Team Sky are all about, a rider who has shown incredible discipline over the last two years to transform himself into a world class all round cyclist. And as long as he can survive the last mountain stage on Thursday, the road will be clear for Wiggins to take his place in history as the first Briton to win the Tour de France.
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