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Bradley Wiggins is favored to become the U.K.’s first Tour de France winner, and some say he may even control the race as Lance Armstrong used to.
The Briton, who rides for Team Sky, beat defending champion Cadel Evans in the Criterium du Dauphine in early June when his Sky teammates dictated the race’s pace. Their dominance was similar to that by seven-time winner Armstrong’s U.S. Postal team from 1999 to 2004, according to Pedro Horrillo, a former Tour de France rider.
“The superiority was the same,” Horrillo, who writes a column about the race for Spain’s El Pais newspaper, said in a telephone interview. “They acted like they owned the road.”
Team Sky’s Wiggins is a 6-5 chance to win with U.K. bookmaker William Hill, while Evans is a 2-1 chance. A successful $5 bet on Wiggins would yield $6 plus the stake.
The chances of Wiggins, who matched a British-high fourth place at the 2009 Tour, have improved because Spain’s two-time champion Alberto Contador is suspended for a doping infraction. Luxembourg’s Andy Schleck, who inherited Contador’s 2010 title, is also out injured. The three-week race, first run in 1903, covers 2,173 miles (3,497 kilometers) and starts tomorrow with a 3.8-mile prologue in Liege, Belgium.
Team Sky, bankrolled by News Corp. and British Sky Broadcasting Plc, began racing in 2010 on the back of U.K. success in track cycling. Wiggins, who was born in Belgium and raised in London, won two of Britain’s eight cycling gold medals at the 2008 Olympic Games.
Wiggins had the best chance of any Briton ever to win the Tour de France because of his form and the strength of the Sky team, teammate Mark Cavendish said in an interview. “We can be confident he’ll put up a very, very good show,” Cavendish said.
Sky riders Chris Froome, Michael Rogers and Richie Porte led race leader Wiggins up the final climb on the next-to-last stage of the Dauphine to the Col de Joux Plane. Evans had no teammates in the nine-man pack.
Wearing sunglasses over expressionless faces, the Team Sky cyclists rode in a line without showing any emotion like U.S. Postal.
“It’s a symptom of concentration; they were very focused,” Horrillo said in a phone interview. “It’s not spectacular but it’s effective.”
Evans only broke free of the group on the descent to Morzine to gain an 8-second advantage, and Wiggins clinched the race win by more than a minute the next day.
Marc Madiot, manager of the Francaise des Jeux team, says the Tour may become dull if Sky controls the pace.
“It’s possible it could be boring for the spectator,” Madiot said in a phone interview. “Team Sky is there to win the race, not to thrill the fans.”
Before joining Sky in 2010, Wiggins rode for Francaise des Jeux and two other French teams: Credit Agricole and Cofidis. He has also competed for the U.S.’s High Road and Garmin among other teams.
Wiggins, 32, missed last year’s Tour with a broken collarbone. After recovering, he finished third at the Vuelta a Espana, another of the so-called Grand Tours. He says Evans, an Australian, is also cycling well.
“I am not the favorite for the Tour de France, but I’m one of the favorites for sure,” Wiggins told the race website, letour.com.
The tour begins as a new cloud of suspicion surrounds Armstrong. The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency this month accused him and five others of engaging in a doping conspiracy from 1998 to 2011. Armstrong says there is no evidence to support USADA’s claims. The U.S. Attorney ended a criminal investigation into doping allegations against him in February without filing charges.
This year’s route favors Wiggins’s talent in against-the- clock racing because there are 63 miles of time trial -- twice as much as last year.
That may create a “massive” advantage for Wiggins and other specialists that others may not be able to pare back, Movistar team manager Eusebio Unzue said in a statement previewing the race.
In a race on public roads where crashes or strong winds can set back a rider’s challenge, Team Sky may not be able to control everything.
“Sometimes the Tour becomes an illogical race,” Unzue adds.
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