Friday, July 13, 2012

His time has come. At long last it has come. He must have wondered if and when it would all come together. But those long tortuous hours spent pushing the boundaries of physical endeavour are finally bringing the rewards that one so dedicated richly deserves.

Is he a pretender? Not on your Nellie he’s not.

Yes, Bradley Wiggins is in the now, showing any remaining sceptics that he is indeed the real deal.

Having bided his time patiently waiting for that rarest of opportunities - a Tour de France title - here he is, displaying without a shadow of a doubt that he is well and truly a contender for one of the biggest sporting shows on Earth.

The prime contender that is. Not for him a position as an auxiliary unit. He is far too talented for that.

One of the big guns, firing on all cylinders, the Belgium born Brit resident with the biggest of engines has powered his way to the front of the field.

The maillot jaune becomes him. He wears the honour with a calm presence that befits the scintillating scenery that is the high stakes of the Tour de France.

His form is such that he has the pot full with all the necessary ingredients and in the methodical way that only a true professional can he is bringing two of those key qualities of peerless time trialling and strong hill climbing to the boil nicely.

First he goes and matches defending champ Cadel Evans on the initial hill stage of this year’s tour. And it is not as if Evans didn’t attack. Of course he did, he is the defending champ, but it was to no avail as Wiggins defended grimly, determined not to blow the biggest chance of his already stellar career.

STOP it, Bradley. This can’t continue.

Keep this up and the cycling world really will start to believe in you. Now, we can’t have that can we; after all, you may start to do a splendid impersonation of a champion.

There he was on the final ascent of stage eight, a short 6km (average gradient 14%) climb to the finish, with the last three hundred metres at a gradient of twenty-two percent. Not his cup of tea to be honest. The big man is more suited to the long gradual climbs.

But here he was matching Evans spoke for spoke, proving that he is in the form of his life.

All those hours on a training bike, all those missions scouting routes such as this, and all those heartbreaking weeks spent away from his wife and children - the sacrifice is in the process of paying dividends in the form of achieving a lifelong dream.

That same dream is giving him the pleasure of sparring against one of the best in the business, Cadel Evans.

If matching Evans in one of the champ’s favoured arenas of action was the jab that knocked his rival off guard momentarily, then his performance in the next day’s time trial was the left hook that put Evans to the canvass. Sure the Australian got back up and fought on, but he now knows that he has the fight of his life on his hands.

Vulnerability has been ushered into Evans cycling psyche.

The same cannot be said of Wiggins. His confidence will be soaring as high as one of those formidable Alps that have converged on the event. This race, though, is one that he currently holds in the palm of his hand. This should make it relatively easy to maintain his control over the peloton.

The thirty-two year old Brit knows all he has to do is protect a 1m 53s lead over Evans and one hundred and sixty or so other predators that take great delight in tearing to shreds anything in yellow.

So there is no pressure, Bradley. After all, there are only another nine stages and fifteen hundred and twenty-nine kilometres for him to have to defend that hard fought lead. They will – in particular, Evans – attack at any given moment.

Colors, reputations, they mean nothing to that lot.

But he’s a mod, for he can do it all. Proving that no job is too big or too small for the biggest of targets, not only does Wiggins have the mightiest of individual talents, it seems that he is presiding over what is fast becoming known as a supremely well drilled team unit.

And as anyone well versed in the intricacies of the sport of professional cycling knows, a strong team is imperative. No fearless climbers to help you out in the Alps and you’re toast. Vital to have those eight teammates by the side of said star to protect him from the inevitable crashes that often occur in the first week of proceedings, too.

Team Sky has, thus far, done a superb job of protecting their talisman.

Often seen at the front of the peloton, taking nothing for granted, Wiggins has an eagle eye on the lookout for any attacks that may be aimed his way, for he respects all.

Not for him to underestimate anyone, not least his major protagonist in the form of Evans.

And for good reason as those predicted attacks came thick and fast on stage eleven, yesterday.

This was it, the showdown of all showdowns, a day where four of the meanest, nastiest hill climbs, each with the ugliest chip on their shoulder that could be found for many an Alp, charged the most exorbitant of prices upon entry. That they resent anyone conquering them goes without saying. Only the fittest and toughest may proffer. The rest . . . well, the devil of the bike gets your soul.

Not Wiggins though. He not only survived, but repelled the attacks of Evans.

Then he returned the favour, giving his foe a dose of his own medicine. By stage end, Wiggins had gained another 1m 26s to be 3m 19s ahead of Evans.

His nearest competition is now his teammate, Chris Froom. In other words the Tour de France is his to lose.

All he has to do is avoid crashes, mechanical failures, the usual attacks and any sense of complacency, not to mention a litany of other potential pitfalls that could turn his world upside down.

See, it's really not that hard.

After all, he has survived so far and unlike many of his rivals, he left stage eleven with his cycling soul intact.

Monday, July 2, 2012

The naysayers have entered the fray.

They have the noose at hand, first for Roger and now Serena. Off to retirement they should go, to this mob that would be okay. Be careful, the critics may get their way.

Both are past it, they say. So convinced have they become that they risk being entrenched in the blasé, overlooking two fine careers and what are still two outstandingly good players.

Thirty, it is too old to be so bold as to believe that a career in the mould of the physical could continue to take hold.

Thirty... that’s right, thirty – the cynics want them out – Roger, Serena, they’re so old hat, could it be that a career or two has finally been beckoned by earth’s end?

What do you reckon?

Yes, they should go. . . WHAT.

Noooooo . . . it is not true I tell you, NOT true. Didn’t you see the American up against Jie Zheng on Saturday? Serena could not have been more magnificent, if not in the mastery of her game, then in the way she fought for all she was worth.

Retirement . . . what repugnance, just the very idea of it.

Let us take this argument to the fold, for there was the youngest of the William’s sisters doing battle with a menacing opponent who thought nothing of spending a good couple of hours sending down a barrage of ground strokes laden with the most barren despondency that Serena could imagine.

Who could blame the thirteen time grand slam winner if she had considered quitting.

Staring her in the face was a force of nature red with fury and ferocious in its intent. A formidable foe, out to take the scalp - a scalp that has done the names of Court, Jean King, Navratilova, Evert and Graf proud - of one of Women’s Tennis’ biggest ever names.

Only a few short weeks ago Williams had lost in the first round of the French Open.

Sure, clay is not her pet surface, but all the same the mental scars had to be there.
Could she do it anymore when there was most certainly a deep reservoir of uncertainty shaking the very roots of her self-belief to its core?

You betcha she could. 9-7 in the third set to the good and a win was there for Serena to saviour.

So please prophets of doom be gone with you. Take your gloom and let us clear the murk away, lavishing the vast rays of the ravishing Wimbledon summer sun upon the career of Serena Williams.

She has so much more to offer, she really does. Past it – yeah right.

There was Serena scrapping it out to the end. There was some good; there was some of the not so good. To be sure it wasn’t her best, but she hung in for the long haul like the champion she is.

By all means critique her performance but to write her off – big mistake.

When the important points came, there was Serena at the door, ready, willing, fully loaded and prepared to send a flurry of verbs hurtling down with a velocity that defied.

She aced it alright; she’ll be back for she is no hack.

For that matter there is a good few years left in this supposedly run down old dame if she so desires.

Now is the time for the great lady to dedicate herself solely to her Tennis, to remind us all of her greatness. Sharapova, Azarenka, Kvitova, now there is a formidable line-up. Chomping at the bit, they're young and hunger for the glory of Grand Slam titles. Energetic and fit, there is only one way to deal with the parasites of opposition; work harder than them.

For Serena the time has come to rise up once again and put the young sasses in their place - their rightful place, that being behind her staring into an undefeatable wall of despair. Yes, there is some mighty talent amongst them, but then she is the mightiest of them all.

Of all tennis folk, Williams knows how the hard times can fall on the unexpecting.

There she was in early 2011, thought to have recovered from a foot injury the previous July, when complications set in.

A blood clot formed in her leg, she nearly died. Fortunately the time was not nigh for Williams to wave goodbye.

Back to full health, the world is a greater place for her presence. What is more, Williams appears to have mellowed. Her dice with death looks to have shown her the way to a more serene outlook on life.

Her on-court demeanour appears to have quietened for the better. Gone is a lot of the grunting, along with what at times has been a rather demonstrative outlook towards officials. Perhaps turning thirty has ushered in a much welcomed maturity, not a fading of her tennis ability.

And now this champion has a chance to leave a legacy over the next couple of years that will not only have her remembered as one of the greats of the game, but completely change the public’s perception of her as a person.