“They laughed when I said I wanted to be a comedian,” said the late Bob Monkhouse. “They’re not laughing now.”
Something similar might be said of the ambitions of Team Sky and Bradley Wiggins to win the Tour de France.
The announcement in 2009 that a British team would compete in world cycling’s top tier with the goal of producing a homegrown winner of the sport’s biggest prize within five years was greeted with amusement in some quarters.
Laughter now rarely accompanies an assessment of Wiggins’ prospects for overall victory in the Tour.
Speaking at London’s Sigma Sport two weeks ago, the 1996 winner, Bjarne Riis, his Saxo Bank team preparing to enter La Grande Boucle without a contender, wondered whether Wiggins had “burned too many matches”.
A fortnight and another prestigious stage race victory later, this is a concern few will share. Little seems left to chance at Team Sky, a squad built famously on the aggregation of marginal gains, and their preparation methods appear finely tuned to deliver Wiggins to each race in peak form.
In April, Brailsford told RoadCyclingUK that Team Sky’s “engine room” would be crucial to the squad’s success at the Tour de France.
He identified the requirements of those on whom the lofty ambitions of Wiggins and Mark Cavendish will depend: selflessness, total commitment to an allotted role, an ability to recover and go again the following day.
Three major stage races have followed our conversation: the Tour du Romandie, the Giro d’Italia and the Dauphiné; in each, Brailsford’s riders have met their manager’s expectations, most notably at the Dauphiné, where the team rarely seemed in anything but complete control.
Nobody arrives at the Tour de France expecting to win. The magnitude of the event, and the scale of the physical challenge would make a mockery of such arrogance. But Wiggins and Team Sky must now be considered to have achieved all that was possible in the build up to the race, and barring accident or injury, will arrive in Liege on Saturday June 30 with confidence.
Can Wiggins win the Tour? Time will tell. The absence of Contador and the inclusion of more than 100km of time trialing will certainly help. Cadel Evans’ showing in the Dauphiné proved that he will not give up his crown without a fight. But if pre-Tour form counts for anything, Wiggins has the advantage. Here’s hoping.