Bradley Wiggins feeling 'better than last year' and aiming for double

Winning both the Giro d'Italia and Tour de France in the course of a cycling career is one mark of a great of the sport.

As Sir Bradley Wiggins explained, the subtly different challenge the Giro offers a stage race specialist – more and steeper mountains, less stress but less structure – means that Giro victory marks the point at which a Tour specialist takes on the aura of a more all-round champion.

The Tour de France winner clearly believes his form is good enough to win the Giro: in fact his much-favoured "numbers" are apparently telling him that he is in even better form than when he dominated last year's Tour. "Based on what people saw in [the Giro del] Trentino and the training we've been doing in the last couple of weeks, I think I'm better than I was going into the Tour last year," he said.

That, he believes, is the result of the cumulative effect of 18 months of hard work since he returned from the crash which put him out of the Tour de France in July 2011. He has had two breaks from competing and training hard since then and even then the benefit of the work with his trainer, Tim Kerrison, has not been lost.

"I've done enough now to have the faith and belief in myself," Wiggins said. "You always go on about numbers, and I'm sick of doing it to you all the time, but the numbers don't really lie. I think body weight and numbers give you an end result and that's what I focus more on now in the training we do."

Wiggins said he was given particular grounds for optimism by his form on the second stage of the Giro del Trentino, the finish at Vetriolo Terme, where he responded to several sharp attacks from another Giro favourite, the Italian Vincenzo Nibali, who went on to win the race overall. "You get to put it into action in something like Trentino, on one of those summit finishes where I finished with Vincenzo – how good I felt, how smooth I felt. That for me is a win in itself, more than having a 40k time trial the next day and winning by three minutes."

Stephen Roche, one of the elite few to win the Giro and Tour in the same year, believes Wiggins is capable of emulating him but that is a feat achieved by a very small group: Fausto Coppi, Jacques Anquetil, Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault, Roche, Miguel Indurain and Marco Pantani.

It is mere speculation at present but it is a mark of Wiggins's confidence that he is prepared not merely to entertain the possibility but to embrace it in public in the most confident terms. Past experience, most notably in 2010, will have taught him the dangers of talking up his own chances if he is not certain of his form.

The added twist is that whether he goes into the Tour with the double in mind, or with a victory to compensate for Giro defeat in his sights, the man most likely to frustrate him is his own team-mate Chris Froome, the winner this season of the Tour of Oman, Criterium International and most recently the Tour of Romandie. "We both want to win the race and we're both incredibly competitive people," said Wiggins. "We both want to win, that's the main thing really.

"You wouldn't bet a lot of money against Chris being the [team] leader," said Wiggins, before adding the caveat, "but we may run with both of us." He added: "It may be that Chris is just in incredible form and we say, 'You know what, we'll put everything with Chris.'"

Clearly he is impressed with Froome's transformation this year into a regular winner: "I wouldn't say he's in the form of his life because he will be in the form of his life at the Tour but he's stepped up another level from last year and he's well on track to doing what he wants to achieve."

Even if Froome is Sky's designated leader at the Tour, Wiggins does not see himself being demoted to a mere domestique. "It may be that Chris is the leader but that doesn't mean I'm going to sit on the front for 200km and lose half an hour. I want to finish second then, as he did last year. In terms of having that two-pronged attack and working together, if he attacks on a climb I won't be chasing him down."

For the moment, however, the Tour is a long way away for Wiggins, who – in common with Kerrison – is adamant that the Giro is the immediate priority, with the Tour coming into the equation as a goal only after the Giro concludes in Brescia on 26 May. "I want to finish my career having won the Giro and the Tour. If I get the opportunity to win a second Tour that's great but in the next month the priority is the Giro. I haven't thought about the Tour route – it's all focused on the Giro. I may get the opportunity to do both this year; I like the challenge of doing both and training for the Giro may make me physically better for the Tour. It's killing two birds with one stone."

Powered by article was written by William Fotheringham, for The Guardian on Monday 29th April 2013 18.56 Europe/London © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010


image: © Bradley Nikolaj