Chartres: For Bradley Wiggins, the champagne on the Champs-Elysees is about to flow.
He all but locked up the Tour de France title with a tour-de-force performance to win the final time trial — putting him on the cusp of becoming the first Briton to win cycling`s showpiece race.
Wiggins blew away the field in Saturday`s race against the clock in Stage 19, his second Tour victory this year in a time trial, his specialty.
"I really wanted to go out there and finish with a bang, and fortunately I was able to do that," said Wiggins, noting he realized the breadth of emotion when he spotted his mechanic in tears.
Even before the Tour started, Wiggins was the favorite. The 32-year-old rider took the yellow jersey in Stage 7. Then came questions about the unity of his Sky Team, pre-race preparations and his ability to get up mountains — all of which he put to rest.
There was also the absence of two-time Tour champion and cycling superstar Alberto Contador, who is serving a doping ban. That led many to wonder whether Wiggins was really the sport`s best.
Wiggins has been vocal in his criticism of doping in cycling and said the sport may be changing after the sport`s governing body put tough controls in place.
"I think the Tour is a lot more human now with everything the UCI is doing," he said, suggesting that dopers — and their intermittently astonishing performances — are being driven from the sport.
Wiggins is a three-time Olympic track champion who made the difficult transition to road racing. He crashed out the Tour a year ago with a broken collarbone. He envied Australia`s Cadel Evans, who had the elation of winning the yellow jersey.
"That was my motivation: I want to feel what he`s feeling," Wiggins said.
The Team Sky leader obliterated the pack in the 33-mile ride from Bonneval to Chartres and punched the air and shouted as he crossed the finish line.
Sunday`s ride to the finish on Paris` Champs-Elysees will be largely ceremonial — Wiggins is too far ahead for any competitor to erase his lead over the 75-mile ride from Rambouillet.
After Saturday`s stage, with victory secure, Wiggins sighed and looked skyward as he hoisted the winner`s bouquet.
"I have a lot of emotion right now," he said. "It`s the stuff of dreams to win the final time trial and seal the Tour."
Wiggins was timed in 1 hour, 4 minutes, 13 seconds. Countryman and teammate Christopher Froome was second, 1:16 behind. Luis Leon Sanchez of Spain was third, 1:50 back. Overall, Wiggins has a 3:21 lead over Froome, who is second. Italy`s Vincenzo Nibali is third, 6:19 back.
Riders set off one-by-one in the race against the clock in reverse order of the standings, and Wiggins` dominance was evident from the first time check. He was 12 seconds ahead of Froome after 8 ½ miles.
Wiggins had a formidable lead coming into the stage. His only threat of any kind was from Froome, a successful time-trial rider, and less so from Nibali, who is not quite as strong in this discipline.
Despite rumblings about behind-the-scenes competition between them, Froome proved a faithful teammate to the end.
"As we saw today, he`s stronger than me," Froome told French TV, after hugging Wiggins. "I`m very happy. The (Sky) goal this year was to win the Tour with Bradley. To be second (for me) is an added plus."
The big question mark concerned the riders below them: Whether young American Tejay Van Garderen could overtake Jurgen Van Den Broeck for fourth — he didn`t. Or whether Frenchman Pierre Rolland, a strong climber but not a time trialer, would stay in the top 10 — he did.
The main change at the top involved Evans. He was passed by BMC teammate Van Garderen despite a three-minute head start and fell one spot to seventh in the overall standings.
The mostly flat course passed fields of corn and wheat into Chartres, known for its towering cathedral with asymmetrical spires. The route presented few challenges other than the breeze.
In the last six miles, Wiggins said his thoughts turned to his family. He was born in Belgium and raised by a single mother in the working-class area of Kilburn in northwest London. His father, a former racing cyclist, was largely absent from his life; he died in 2008.
"Just thinking back to my childhood. My father leaving us when I was a kid and growing up with my mum in a flat," Wiggins said, recalling his grandfather`s death during the 2010 Tour. "My grandfather brought me up — he was my father role model."
Wiggins also gave a nod to the legions of flag-waving Britons who flocked to France to watch the race this year, some dressing up as English knights or unfurling Union Jacks from car windows.
"That`s something that touches me more because it`s difficult for the English with the French," Wiggins told French TV, in French.
Wiggins was fourth in the 2009 Tour and 24th in 2010. But he has been the favorite to win in 2012 since his dazzling turn with three stage-race victories.
This Tour has been about as favorable as it could be for Wiggins: he is among the world`s best in the time trial. Mountains — not his specialty — carried relatively less importance this time. But he proved through two days in the Alps and two in the Pyrenees that he`s among the best climbers, too.
And now he can savor it all with champagne.