Tour de France 2012: Allez, allez!

Barring outrageous fortune, Bradley Wiggins will become the first ever British winner of the Tour de France this afternoon.

It’s been a dominant performance by Wiggins and Team Sky, emphasised by his stamping his authority on this year’s race with a second stage win in yesterday’s 53.5km individual time trial.  That result, 1 minute 16 seconds ahead of his second-placed team-mate, the Kenyan-born British rider, Chris Froome, silenced the critics who had speculated that Froome, who will finish second overall, was the stronger rider.  Not this year.

Here’s the Guardian’s video report of yesterday’s stage.

Placed second in the opening time-trial by just 7 seconds behind perennial prologue winner Fabian Cancellara, Wiggins weathered the first week of sprint finishes and crashes which saw 20 riders withdraw with broken bones – just as Wiggins had done last year.  During that first week, Manx missile Mark Cavendish, also now on Team Sky, grabbed his 21st stage victory in Tournais.

On the 7th Stage, 199km from Tomblaine to a mountain-top finish at La Planche des Belles Filles, Sky demonstrated their strength in depth on the final climb – dropping potential race challengers along the way, with the exception of last year’s winner Cadel Evans and Vincenzo Nibali.  Chris Froome took his first stage win, Evans was second, but third-placed Wiggins lost no time to the duo and took over the maillot jaune.

It hasn’t left his shoulders since.

Evans’ challenge faded in the Alps with a particularly bad day on the final climb of stage 11.

Vincenzo Nibali briefly threatened, but was spent by the time the Tour traversed the Pyrenees and he fell further behind on stage 17.

In the absence of his injured brother Andy, a disappointing Franck Shleck withdrew from the Tour, after 15 stages, after testing positive for a specified substance, the diuretic Xipamide.

Wiggins will lead the Tour onto the Champs-Élysées by 3 minutes 21 seconds from Froome, Nibali is 6 minutes 19 seconds back.

Overall, Sky riders have won 5 stages so far.  Wiggins two, Froome one, and Mark Cavendish two.  His second came in a thrilling peloton chase and catch of a small group, including Irish rider Nicolas Roche, within sight of the line on stage 18.  And Cavendish has his sights on a historic fourth win on the Champs-Élysées in four years.  The possibility exists of current world champion Cavendish being led out on the final sprint by the yellow jerseyed Wiggins.

Last year’s hero Tomas Voeckler takes the polka-dot jersey as King of the Mountains.  Peter Sagan, in his first Tour, has the green points jersey.  Nicolas Roche, son of Ireland’s only Tour de France winner Stephen, will finish in 12th place overall.

It could be the start of the reign of Team Sky.

Update Mark Cavendish wins the final stage of the 2012 Tour de France on the Champs-Élysées. His fourth final stage win in a row, and 23rd stage win in total.