Tour de France: Team Sky coach predicts Bradley Wiggins win

By Matt SlaterBBC sports news reporter

Bradley Wiggins will only be denied a Tour de France win by a bad crash or a miraculous ride from a rival, says his Team Sky head coach Shane Sutton.

The 32-year-old, aiming to become the first Briton to win the race, holds the leader's yellow jersey after stage 12.

Wiggins leads fellow Brit and Sky team-mate Chris Froome by two minutes and five seconds, with Italy's Vincenzo Nibali a further 18 seconds back.

"It's going to take a good man to beat him from here," said Sutton.

Sutton, who also coaches Britain's Olympic track squad, added: "He's got a two-minute lead, with another chance to put massive amounts of time into his opponents in a time trial [the penultimate stage on 21 July], so it's looking good for him."

Wiggins came into this year's Tour as the bookmakers' favourite, thanks to a superb run of results so far in 2012. But most experts predicted a close battle between the British time-trial specialist and last year's champion Cadel Evans.

So far, however, Wiggins has more than matched the Australian, beating him against the clock and in the high-mountain stages.

Sutton, who has worked with Wiggins for more than a decade and is one of the cyclist's closest friends, said this is a result of a change in attitude and approach.

"He's just ticked every box," said Sutton, a former rider who moved to the UK from Australia in the 1980s.

"Everything you need to do to win the Tour, he's trained it first and now he's doing it."

It was Sutton who picked up Wiggins' spirits and adjusted his training after the triple Olympic champion endured a disappointing first Tour as Team Sky's leader in 2010.

Sutton realised that Wiggins, who finished a surprise fourth in 2009, struggled in the last 5km of the Tour's highest stages, so he brought in a sports scientist called Tim Kerrison, an Australian whose previous experience was with rowers and swimmers, to develop a new programme.

Encouraged by Sutton, Kerrison prescribed a series of "altitude camps" for Wiggins, and Tenerife, a popular spot with endurance athletes, became his second home.

With Wiggins devoting himself to the new scheme, Sutton and Team Sky principal David Brailsford "scoured the world" to build a team capable of mounting a Tour challenge.

"It's like Fergie looking for a good midfielder or striker," explained the 55-year-old coach.

"You're looking for people to play the role that you want to win the Tour. You need big engines, people like Mick Rogers and Richie Porte.

"We sourced riders to do the job that's needed to get Brad over the line."

In the sport's French vernacular, these riders are known as "domestiques", which literally translates as "servant" but in cycling means a team member who rides for the benefit of his leader.

With Team Sky, Wiggins has a group of domestiques at his disposal who could easily be leaders elsewhere, none more so than Froome, the Kenyan-born Brit spotted by Sutton and British Cycling coach Doug Dailey at the 2006 Commonwealth Games.

So strong have Wiggins and his team been at the Tour this year that some seasoned observers have suggested the only person who looks capable of beating him is Froome.

This view was given added credence on Thursday, when the 27-year-old helped Wiggins reel in a Nibali attack, only to put in a burst that left his leader behind.

Froome's charge came to a halt, though, when an urgent message came through from the team car on his radio to slow down and wait for Wiggins.

"From my point of view, Froomey's made a move at the wrong time," said Sutton.

"There was a little bit of miscommunication as his leader was exposed at the time - Brad was riding on the front and that's not his job.

"I think Froomey has made a little error there but it's all settled down now and they're all back on track.

"Froomey will do his job. But if something was to happen to Bradley he's a very good plan B.

"But at this moment we're sticking with the big gun and that's Wiggins."

For British cycling, the thought of a "plan B" to win the Tour de France is almost beyond belief.

But Sutton believes the sport in this country has been on the rise ever since the arrival of lottery funding in 1997, to a point that Britain is now "without doubt" the strongest cycling nation in the world. And the best is yet to come.