By Julien Pretot
BAGNERES DE LUCHON, France (Reuters) - One more day in the mountains gives Bradley Wiggins's rivals probably their last chance to stop him becoming the first Briton to win the Tour de France.
"I don't think that the others have eased up trying to beat me and start thinking of the other places on the podium. Not yet," Wiggins said after Wednesday's 16th stage.
"They gave us a good go over the climbs today and tomorrow is another day, another challenge. I guess everyone will also start thinking about (Saturday's) time trial and things. That's a mountainous stage in itself.
"Another day ticked off and tomorrow is a whole other day. We've got a good scenario for the final day in the mountains but the process now starts: recovering, eating, drinking lots and getting ready right away."
With Wiggins enjoying a lead of two minutes five seconds over Sky team mate Chris Froome and leading third-placed Vincenzo Nibali by 2:23, defending champion Cadel Evans has conceded defeat in the race, which finishes in Paris on Sunday.
Team Sky principal David Brailsford, who has known Wiggins for some 10 years, is confident that his protege can defend his lead until the end.
"I've got no doubts about (Brad's attitude). He's never been in any race when there was questions about his mental approach to the race," the Scot told reporters.
"Credit to him. The last 18 months put together is nothing short of remarkable. I don't know any other senior British athlete who's performed at this level for the same period of time.
"It's all about vigilance now and concentration and attitude (until Paris)," said Brailsford.
Thursday's 143.5-km 17th stage will finish in Peyragudes, at the end of a 15.4-km ascent at an average gradient of 5.1 percent, coming right after the descent from the Col de Peyresourde.
Italian Nibali is the only rider who still has a slim chance to beat Wiggins - providing Froome does not rebel.
Given Wiggins's superiority in time trials, Liquigas rider Nibali would need to get about four minutes on Wiggins on Thursday, something that is unlikely to happen according to Froome who had little problem holding off the Sicilian in the climb to the Col de Peyresourde on Wednesday.
"We were very comfortable there and I don't think he (Nibali) was really going anywhere. He was going 50 meters and then we were bringing him back. He's securing his third place," Froome told reporters after a short warm-down session.
"One more day defending the yellow jersey like this, and then the time trial. Tomorrow is a hilltop finish so definitely I'm expecting some fireworks there."
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