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Wiggins smells victory

BRADLEY WIGGINS struggled to contain his emotions after moving to the verge of a first British Tour de France win in Paris on Sunday.

Wiggins entered today's 222.5km 18th stage from Blagnac to Brive-la-Gaillarde with a lead of two minutes five seconds over Team Sky colleague Chris Froome, with nearest hostile rival Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale) third, 2mins 41secs adrift.

"All the way up the last climb I almost had tears in my eyes," said Wiggins, after finishing 18 seconds ahead of Nibali on the 143.5km 17th stage from Bagneres-de-Luchon to Peyragudes.

"The minute we went over the Peyresourde, I pretty much knew that was the climbing done for the Tour. At that point, the first time in this whole Tour since I've led this race, I thought 'maybe I've just won the Tour'. That's where everyone said I was at my weakest, in the mountains."

Froome was seen imploring Wiggins to stay with him in the finale.

Some believe Froome could have won the Tour himself, but he knows his role was to support Wiggins.

"I'm 27 and I hope to win the Tour one day," said Froome, after finishing second on the stage to Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), with Wiggins third.

Happy

"If you had said to me a month before the Tour that with three days to go I would be second I wouldn't have believed you. I'm very happy."

Froome is also on the verge of history - no Briton has finished on the Tour podium in 98 previous editions. Now there are set to be two.

Wiggins has been in imperious form this season and has carried it into the Tour.

The 32-year-old was second in the Tour's prologue and has remained in the top two of the general classification since, taking the maillot jaune on stage seven and was set to wear it for an 11th day today. The penultimate day is a 53.5km time-trial and is likely to be the final opportunity for time changes, but the discipline is Wiggins' strongest.

Nicolas Roche, meanwhile, reflected on a tough day where he finished 12th, but lost time on his nearest rivals.

"When the attacks came, I just couldn't follow them," he said. "(Thibaut) Pinot and (Pierre) Rolland finished fourth and fifth on the stage, while (Chris) Horner was back in ninth and Dan (Martin) 10th - 36th overall. I didn't go as well as yesterday, but I can't say I was terrible either. I was 12th, which is probably one of my best (rides in the mountains) - but it's a pity that I lost time on my direct rivals."