BOURG-EN-BRESSE, France – Team Sky star and defending champion Bradley Wiggins cemented his position as leader of the Dauphine Libere when winning the fourth stage time trial on Thursday.
The triple Olympic champion went into this 53.5 kilometre race against the clock with a slender 1sec lead over reigning Tour de France champion Cadel Evans.
But after this win Wiggins extended his advantage to 38sec, over Tony Martin, with reigning Tour de France champion Evans dropping three places to fifth at 1:44.
“It was perfect for me, the course suited my style really well,” said Wiggins, who caught sight of Evans during his winning run on the course.
“When I saw Cadel in front of me, I didn't give it a second thought. I was just concentrating on my ride.”
Martin, the German time trial world champion, climbed up the General Classification after taking second in the stage at 34sec behind the Briton.
Meanwhile Evans, a four-time runner-up in the race, slipped down the standings after crossing in eighth, at 1:43 Ä and admitted he still has plenty of room for improvement ahead of the June 30 start of the Tour de France.
“I expected to do better, I'm a bit disappointed,” said Evans, who caused a minor sensation by dominating a three-man sprint to claim victory on the opening stage Monday.
“The specialists like Martin and Wiggins rode really fast. Now I have to go back and have a closer look at things. I still have improvements to make before the Tour de France.”
Wiggins, successful in the Paris-Nice and then the Tour of Romandie earlier this season, is using the Dauphine as a warm up for the Tour de France for which he will line up as one of the favourites.
But the Englishman said this week's race was far from over.
“It's a bit like last year, I have a good margin in my favour but there are three tough days to come.”
As for the Tour, Wiggins, who finished fourth overall in 2009
but crashed out on stage seven last year, said he expected a different challenge altogether from his main Australian rival.
“It's another thing altogether, you can never forget that,” added Wiggins.
“Cadel is a champion and his form will be better come the Tour. Last year he wasn't 100 percent at the Dauphine and he went on to win the Tour.”
For another possible Tour contender, Andy Schleck, it was a disastrous day in the saddle.
Already under pressure from his RadioShack team manager Johan Bruyneel to show his yellow jersey credentials after a mediocre season so far, a strong gust of wind caught the lightweight Luxemburger and his bike and dumped them at the side of the road.
Schleck lost more than 10 minutes to Wiggins while trying to get back into time trial position to finish the race, and later complained of a sore hand and wrist.
“I changed bikes and managed to finish, but honestly, I lost everything – my head as well as the momentum I had going, I couldn't get back into an aerodynamic position,” said Schleck, the 2010 Tour de France winner.
“It was a tough day and tomorrow I'm sure I won't be back to my best. But then again, I can't work miracles. I feel I'm getting better day by day and I'm confident for the longer term.” – Sapa-AFP