Blazin' Saddles

Wiggins on the rise

Blazin' Saddles

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After an
understandably timid first week in sweltering Spain, Britain's Bradley Wiggins
came alive in a thrilling finale to Sunday's stage nine to the ski resort of La
Covatilla.

Wiggins, a
renowned MOD and music lover, must have dropped his iPod in the sea at Benidorm
nine days ago because he's been clearly warming up to the wrong tunes. 

Instead of
being driven by Paul Weller's 'Peacock Suit' or 'The Guns of Brixton' by The
Clash, Wiggin's form since the opening TTT looked to have been affected by
having Bjork's 'It's Oh So Quiet' on a constant loop.

But on
Sunday's final climb, a reinvigorated Wiggins rode as if he was performing a
mountain time trial to a soundtrack of The Kinks' Greatest Hits. Getting in to
a strong rhythm, Wiggins juggernauted up to La Covatilla like a thinner and
less reckless Jan Ullrich in his prime.

With
faithful lieutenant Chris Froome by his side, Wiggins not only reeled in the
defending champion Vincenzo Nibali, he also brought about the unexpected
distancing of both Joaquim Rodriguez and Michele Scarponi.

In
yesterday's blog, Saddles likened the short but devilishly steep ramp-style
finishes of the kind Rodriguez has now won twice as uphill cycling's equivalent
to fast-food
. With 'El Purito' an obvious devourer of Big Macs, would he
survive on a four-course gourmet experience such as La Covatilla?

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Rabobank Cycling Team's Mollema celebrates after taking the overall lead after the ninth stage of the Tour of Spain
Well, we got
our answer when Rodriguez (left) blew a gasket inside the final 3km. Losing the red
jersey to the impressive Dutch rookie Bauke Mollema, Rodriguez will enter
Monday's time trial a demoralised wreck. Nibali, just nine seconds down on
Mollema, will be licking his lips.

But Wiggins
is also poised to leap up a tight GC that has 13 riders clustered together all
within one minute of the summit.

Throughout
the opening nine days, Wiggins has pretty much ridden alongside his team-mate
Froome. The two have been so inseparable it's as if Wiggins is a blind rider
partaking in the Paralympics and in need of a guide.

Indeed, it
was only the fact that Froome dropped three seconds to his leader on Sunday
that Wiggins now leads his right-hand man by, yup, three seconds in the GC.

If Wiggins
weren't such a strong time trialler, Saddles would make some quip about him not
being able to survive 40km on the road without being able to lean on the
shoulders of his Kenyan-born mate.

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Team Garmin Cervelo's Martin and Liquigas Cannondale's Nibali cycle during the ninth stage of the Tour of Spain
Sunday's
stage was great for English-speaking cycling fans: with Dan Martin's superb
victory, and the Sky pair looking so strong, three of the top five were from
Britain and Ireland - quite a feat seeing that this is the Vuelta, a race
usually dominated by Spaniards and Italians.

Froome was
so strong that he even had his bike scanned for a motor at the finish today -
or at least, that's what he claimed later on Twitter.

Quite how
Martin won the stage, Saddles still doesn't know. He may be the cousin of
Nicolas Roche, but Martin's style on the bike would have his uncle Stephan
tut-tutting all the way to Tipperary.

Watching
Martin, all hunched and hyperactive, riding alongside Nibali, composed and
controlled, was like watching two men take part in two completely different
sports.

But at the
end of the day, it was the ungainly flamboyance of Martin that won over
aesthetics and composure. Like Martin's shoulders, this Vuelta still has many
twists and turns in store.

 

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