Bradley Wiggins had led the 2012 Tour de France with authority, both on and off the bike.
A clean winner and a statesman are needed now more than ever following Frank Schleck’s positive test for Xipamide at the end of stage 13.
The Londoner’s fiery defence of his own route to success – hard work and determination – drew more admirers than critics, despite the choice language with which he expressed himself.
His sporting display on stage 14, slowing the peloton while chief rival, Cadel Evans, recovered from a puncture caused by tacks left on the road in a bizarre act of sabotage from spectators unknown, drew further plaudits.
Now, as the mainstream media, back on familiar ground with a doping scandal, gears up for the result of Schleck’s B sample within four days, Wiggins’ leadership will be required more than ever.
For a man famously reluctant to assume centre stage when Team Sky was launched in 2010, insisting that he wasn’t the story, Wiggins has blossomed into a leader, not only of his team, but also of the peloton.
Greater tests lie ahead. Today’s sixteenth stage from Pau to Bagnères-de-Luchon includes four of the Pyrenees’ greatest climbs: the hors categorie Col d’Aubsique, and the first category Col du Tourmalet, Col d’Aspin, and Col de Peyresourde. Each will provide a severe challenge.
Defending his lead from Chris Froome would be Wiggins’ greatest priority if second-placed Froome were not a teammate, according to some observers, Froome included if recent quotes attributed to him are to be believed.
Wiggins has moved to quell the disquiet, insisting he is prepared to ride for Froome in future Tours. Perhaps the greatest of Froome’s admirers would do well to recall how Wiggins earned the team’s nomination as leader for this year’s Tour: with victories at Paris-Nice, the Tour du Romandie, and the Criterium du Dauphine.
If the Londoner looked briefly vulnerable on the slopes of La Toussuire, he was utterly dominant in the stage nine time trial from Arc-et-Senans to Besançon. How many will be talking of a teammate thwarted at the end of stage 19 from Bonneval to Chartres when the riders again face the clock? Not for nothing is the time trial called the race of truth.
Wiggins has so far risen to every challenge presented by this year’s Tour. Few would argue that a victory for the Londoner wouldn’t benefit the sport; more than 100km of time trialing would suggest the ASO are among those hoping for a Wiggins’ victory. Such an outcome remains far from certain, but if Wiggins can negotiate the final week of the Tour with the leadership that has characterized his campaign during its opening fortnight, we may be celebrating a British victory in Paris, and from Team Sky’s leader.