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Briton virtually wraps up first win

CHARTRES, France — Bradley Wiggins did not need to wait until the conclusion of this time trial to celebrate victory. By the first time check, it was clear he would win the stage — and his first Tour de France title.

But Wiggins, the Team Sky captain, made sure he crossed the finish line in Chartres, with the iconic cathedral looming behind, before punching the air in celebration.

The Tour ends today in Paris, but Saturday's 33-mile individual race against the clock was effectively the last chance for rivals to recoup time on Wiggins, who almost certainly will become the first Briton to win this race.

Instead, riders such as Vincenzo Nibali, an Italian on Liquigas-Cannondale, were distanced further by a powerful ride that Wiggins, 32, had mentally mapped out months in advance.

"I rode this course after Paris-Nice in March and envisioned then that I would be riding for the yellow jersey," he said. "It couldn't have been more true than what I imagined back then; here we are in July, job almost done."

When the riders reach the cobbled Champs-Elysees, Wiggins' teammate Christopher Froome will be in second, 3 minutes, 21 seconds back; Nibali will be third, 6:19 off the pace.

Nibali need not watch his back, though. Fourth-place Jurgen Van Den Broeck, a Belgian on Lotto-Belisol, trails him by nearly four minutes.

In recent years, the Tour often has been decided by a tense final time trial. In 2010, Spain's Alberto Contador held off Andy Schleck of Luxembourg in an individual test that finished in Bordeaux, though he eventually yielded the title to Schleck after a positive doping test. Last year, Schleck lost the yellow jersey in Grenoble to Australian Cadel Evans.

Both were the only lengthy time trials of their Tours, however; those races were considered more of a climbers' test.

This year's course featured three time trials totaling more than 62 miles, which seemed tailor-made for Wiggins.

If Saturday's stage seemed devoid of suspense, it was due to Wiggins' performance in the first time trial of distance, a 25.8-mile test on July 9.

On a hilly course that finished in Besancon, near the Switzerland border, Wiggins opened up considerable time. His closest rival at the time, Evans of BMC Racing, lost nearly two minutes.

"I started as a kid in time trialing and racing at the track," Wiggins said. "So to win the Tour like this at a discipline that I'm so good at is beautiful."

Briton virtually wraps up first win 07/21/12 [Last modified: Saturday, July 21, 2012 8:11pm]
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