WIGGINS MUST MATCH ARMSTRONG'S FOCUS
By Matt McGeehan, Press Association Sport
Bradley Wiggins must adopt the concentration and focus for which seven-time Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong is renowned in order to fulfil his ambition of finishing on the Champs Elysees podium, according to former Team Sky senior sporting director Scott Sunderland.
Sunderland was an integral force in establishing Team Sky, the BSkyB-backed, Dave Brailsford-run squad, before last month it was announced he would be departing to spend more time with his family and his young son, who is suffering from congenital hepatic fibrosis, a life-threatening disease affecting both the kidneys and the liver.
For the first time since moving to Europe from his native Australia 21 years ago, Sunderland will have time off in July, spending the school holidays with his children.
But he will still take a keen interest in the performance of Team Sky leader Wiggins, who last year finished fourth, equalling the best result by a Briton in cycling's most prestigious event.
Sunderland told Press Association Sport: "What Dave Brailsford and Team Sky have set out for with Bradley Wiggins is to be on the podium.
"I think (getting in the) top five he would be happy, but I think top three is definitely his goal." Armstrong finished a place ahead of Wiggins in his comeback season in 2009, but will be 39 in September and faces a formidable challenge to make the podium once again.
But Wiggins must emulate the Texan's knack of being in the right place at the right time in order to be successful in the Tour, according to Sunderland.
"Lance Armstrong, for me, his strongest point is his concentration and his focus; that's always served him well," added Sunderland, who last week rode the London to Paris race with 1987 Tour champion Stephen Roche. "Even when he was involved in any small incident, he was very quick to recover from it.
"That's from being aware of your surroundings and having a very strong team around you.
"The biggest thing for Brad that he will have to be careful of is being prudent every day, the whole day and having the team around him at all times.
"It's going to be difficult, but at the end of the day he knows who the players are for this race and the teams with the strength.
"Consistency is the most important thing for him throughout the whole tour.
"Every second counts - not throwing away any time in crashes or being caught behind in splits."
Luck must also fall three-time Olympic champion Wiggins' way. "It's a three-week race and a lot can happen," said Sunderland.
The early stages through Holland, Belgium and northern France - including the cobbled sections gracing Paris-Roubaix - could be key and the main protagonists, including Wiggins, will need to be on their guard.
"It's not as if you can win the Tour de France there, but you can definitely lose it," said Sunderland. Sunderland believes Wiggins is not yet ready to win the Tour, with defending champion Alberto Contador the clear favourite.
"Contador on paper for me is going to be first with Andy Schleck second, but that could easily change through a series of events, or even just one event," added the Australian.
"He (Wiggins) is 30 years old and it's taken him all this time to get the consistency and the resistence that you need to be competitive in a three-week tour.
"There's a big difference riding top 10 and trying to limit your losses to being competitive and riding for the victory.
"It's the same riding for a place for the podium and a victory, the step up from there is huge."
As for Team Sky's stated aim of victory with a British rider within five years, Sunderland believes the goal may not be realised until the final moment. "It's a big ask, but it's also something they see is possible," he said.
"I think possibly a few more years on - it will be five years, it's not going to be in the next three years."