|Wiggins, a three-time Olympic track champ, is among the world's best time-trial riders. (Getty Images)|
CHARTRES, France -- For Bradley Wiggins, the Champagne on the Champs-Elysees is about to flow.
He all but locked up Tour de France victory with a tour-de-force in winning 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 stage victory 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, who noted the breadth of emotion for his historic achievement when he spotted his mechanic in tears.
Even before the Tour, Wiggins was the favorite. But in the yellow jersey since Stage 7, he had to handle questions about the unity of his Sky Team, pre-race preparations, and 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's serving out a doping ban, that led many to question 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 tough new controls put in place by the sport's governing body, the UCI, in recent years to battle drugs cheats.
"I think the Tour is a lot more human now with everything the UCI is doing," he said, suggesting that dopers -- and their intermittently incredible performances -- are being rinsed from the peloton.
The three-time Olympic track champion made the tricky transition to road racing, and said he was driven to win this Tour after crashing out a year ago with a broken collarbone. He envied Australia's Cadel Evans, who had the elation of winning the 2011 race.
"That was my motivation: 'I want to feel what's he's feeling,' " Wiggins recalled.
The Team Sky leader obliterated the pack in the 53.5-kilometer ride from Bonneval to Chartres and punched the air and shouted as he crossed the finish line.
Again this year, Sunday's ride to the finish on Paris' Champs-Elysees will be largely ceremonial - his three-minute lead was too large for any competitor to erase over the 120 kilometers from Rambouillet. And besides, second-placed was teammate and countryman Christopher Froome.
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. 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. Italy's Vincenzo Nibali was 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 (13 kilometers).
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's 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 team's] goal this year was to win the Tour with Bradley. To be second [for me] is an added plus."
The standings below them were the biggest question mark: 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 concerned 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 10 kilometers, Wiggins' thoughts turned to his family. Born in Belgium, he was 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 British fans who have flocked into France to watch the race, some dressing up as English knights or unfurling Union Jacks in their 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, "because I know France doesn't like the English."
Wiggins has been the odds-on favorite to win after showing dazzling form with three stage-race victories this season. He was fourth in the 2009 Tour and 24th in 2010.
This Tour has been about as favorable as it could come for Wiggins: He is among the world's top time-trialists. 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.