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Critérium du Dauphiné: Wiggins in command, Mountains up next

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Daffe_medium So just yesterday we were talking about how long time trials always produce at least one disaster ride. Well, today it was Andy Schleck's turn to suffer through a ride of doom at the Critérium du Dauphiné. The 2010 Tour de France winner crashed after around twelve kilometers of racing. Twelve out of 53, that is. Adding insult to injury, Schleck flatted inside the final ten kilometers. For a rider like Schleck, a time trial in strong wind is a nightmare come to life. He finished nine minutes behind stage winner Bradley Wiggins.

After the stage, Schleck said it was a day to forget, and rightly so. "The wind was so strong, there was nothing I could do," he told L'Équipe. "[After the crash] I changed my bike, and I could continue, but everything was lost in my head and with the injuries. I could not get into position. And then, I flatted. It was a day to forget."

For Wiggins, meanwhile, this long time trial solidified his position as a major favorite for the Tour de France. Wiggins beat time trial specialists Tony Martin and Michael Rogers, and he took 1:43 out of Tour rival Cadel Evans. Young Rabobank rider Wilco Kelderman finished fourth in a nice sign of things to come. Another young rider Luke Durbridge of Orica-GreenEdge held an early fastest time, and the Australian, who is fast making a name for himself in the time trial events, finished seventh on the stage, 1:37 down on the flying Wiggins. (Full stage results.)

For Evans, the day proved a disappointment. He now sits 1:43 behind Wiggins in the general classification. "I am disappointed," said Evans. "The specialists were truly good. I did not have the legs. I needed a little more."

That time gap may prove impossible for Evans to make up in the next few days of the Critérium du Dauphiné, especially because Wiggins has developed climbing skills to match his formidable time trial over the past few seasons. The next three stages of this Critérium du Dauphiné are mountainous, but the most difficult climbs come well-short of the finish. Apparently, descending finishes are all the rage this year.

For the Tour de France, today's time trial means everything, or nothing. We already knew, for example, that Andy Schleck struggles when it comes to long rides against the watch. Today proved especially difficult for Schleck. Light riders in the wind, they go together like milk and espresso. Not well. Don't you dare touch my espresso with that milk!

We also knew that Wiggins can crush these long time trials. Since the race organizers announced the Tour de France course last November, Wiggins has been at the top of many people's favorites list. With over 100 kilometers of time trialing on the menu, Wiggins will be hard to beat. I would not count out Evans, though, by any means. The Australian has shown a knack for crafty racing, and it should serve him well come July.

Already of course, the questions are starting. Is Wiggins peaking too early? Jens Voigt added fuel to that particular fire today over on Twitter, by suggesting that a rider peaked out for the Critérium du Dauphiné would find the third week of the Tour de France hard going. Of course, that argument assumes that Wiggins is peaked out now. I tend to doubt it, but we'll see come the third week of July.

Other possible Tour contenders Denis Menchov and Vincenzo Nibali finished more than thiree minutes down on Wiggins. More intriguing, Luís Leon Sánchez dropped only 1:53 to Wiggins, while Jurgen Van Den Broeck finished 2:12 behind. Both Sànchez and Van Den Broeck are solid riders in the mountains, though Sánchez is not known as a rider for the grand tours. These long time trials at the Tour are a gamble. Either the racing will be killer exciting as riders attack in the hope of building an advantage ahead of the time trial. Or, it could be deadly dull as the morale sinks at the thought of 50 kilometers against the watch.

But that's all for the future. Tomorrow, the Critérium du Dauphiné heads into the mountains for the first of three climbing stages. The stage runs from Saint-Trivier-sur-Moignans to Rumilly. There are three categorized climbs on the menu: the category 2 Côte de Corlier, the massive hors catègorie Grand Colombier, and the category 3 col de Richemond.

No doubt the Grand Colombier will blow up the race, but it's almost 70 kilometers from the summit of the Colombier to the finish. The summit of the final climb of the day, the Richemond comes with still 40 kilometers to race. That leaves plenty of time for chasing. Wiggins looks well in command of this race, and it will take some seriously hard riding - or a bad day on his part - to dislodge him from the top of the standings.