Bradley Wiggins and the 2014
Tour de France
I wrote this article for the Tour 2014 Race Guide, which is out in the shops now.
Good news! Sir Bradley has his cycling mojo back. He appeared shaky, and at times a bit flaky in 2013, but it was just a wobble. Becoming Britain’s first ever Tour de France winner in 2012 took more out of Wiggins than anyone can know or understand, unless they did it. And no one will,
because he already has.
There was a huge amount of pressure on Wiggins’ shoulder in 2011 and 2012, because don’t forget he was in Tour-winning shape for two years, but he crashed out in 2011. Maintaining what he had to maintain, low body weight and a high power output, had a huge physical toll. Wiggins was stretching has natural ability, which is a pure burst of time trial speed, to go over long high mountains and for weeks, not minutes, at a time.
Wiggins also carried the expectations of British cycling fans, the responsibilities of leading a well-funded team, for which no gain was too marginal to give him, while being paid a lot of money to do it. And then, when history was in his grasp, when he just had to reach out and take the first British Tour de France victory, Chris Froome began champing at the bit to get past him.
Pressure piled on top of pressure, and Wiggins dealt with it, but the fall out was a difficult year in 2013. Sky aimed Wiggins at the Giro d’Italia, and the team chose Froome to lead in the Tour de France. And whatever way you cut it that was a slap in the face for Wiggins.
He talked the talk, Wiggins said he wanted to go for the Giro, but it never looked like his heart was in it. The Bradley Wiggins that turned up at Team Sky’s pre-Giro UK press conference wasn’t the race-winning, laid back confident Wiggo. He was bouncing about, smiling, making jokes, and telling everyone that he would do the Giro and the Tour, and go for both. “Put it this way, if Chris (Froome) is leading the Tour I won’t be riding for him, I’ll be riding for second place, like he did last year,” was one of his more memorable quotes.
Bambi on ice
That was never the Team Sky principal, Sir David Brailsford’s intention, and he said as much in the coming days. When Wiggins started the Giro, what some of us guessed at during the press conference was plain to see. He wasn’t committed to the race. The weather turned nasty in the mountains, and Wiggins started descending like Bambi on ice. He looked like he wanted to be anywhere but at the Giro d’Italia.
Then Wiggins fell ill, suffered for a few days but got worse and was forced out with a chest infection. So now he could ride the Tour, right? Wrong. As well as his chest infection, Wiggins was carrying a knee injury that flared up when he started training again. His doctor prescribed five days total rest, which would have left him with insufficient time to prepare for a race he needed to be firing on all four during the Tour, so he withdrew from the selection process.
At least those are the facts as Team Sky told us, and what happened did make Chris Froome’s role as undisputed leader going into the Tour absolutely clear whereas it wouldn’t if Wiggins had been there. What if Wiggins had a good first week in the 2013 Tour then came out of the Stage 11 time trial in Normandy well ahead of Froome. Who would Sky have backed then? Anyway, it the problem was averted, but there was a growing feeling that all wasn’t well between Sky’s two top riders.
Arguments and ill-feeling
Reports of arguments and ill-feeling between Froome and Wiggins leaked out. There was a story that Wiggins didn’t pay Froome’s share of his Tour 2012 prize money for months, and that it took intervention by Sir David Brailsford to sort the matter out. Then Team GB, which was essentially the best Brits in Team Sky, plus some other World Tour riders, had a terrible world road race championships, with not one rider finishing. Cue more reports of arguments.
But one thing did come of the 2013 road worlds, Wiggins won Team GB’s only men’s medal of the week, a sliver in the time trial, and from looking embattled and on the back foot, Wiggins began to look more confident.
Fast forward to this year and the cobblestones of Paris-Roubaix, a single day Classic race that is accepted as the hardest and most prized of all the Classics. Wiggins is a student of cycling history, and a good one, he’s read about all the famous battles over the roads of the Hell of the North. So he decided to target the race, in an era when Tour de France winners avoid it like the plague.
And Wiggins did well. He put on some weight; you need pure power for riding cobbles, and trained specifically for Paris-Roubaix 2014, where he finished ninth. Okay, you might say, but he won the Tour de France, what significance is ninth in Paris-Roubaix?
Well, two things really. He’s gone through the wringer a bit since he won the Tour, losing his Kingpin status at Team Sky to Chris Froome. He attracted criticism from some quarters. A bit harsh, but then some would say that’s part of the price of success. That top-ten place will give Wiggins a lot of confidence going forwards. And he did it without racing the whole cobbled Classics programme, which all the
others at the front of the race did. So there’s
big room for improvement there.
But what about Wiggins and the 2014 Tour de France? It would be good to see him in the Sky team this year, and his Paris-Roubaix performance means he’d be one of the favourites to win stage four. The overall route doesn’t suit Wiggins, there are too many mountains and too few time trials, but he’ll add to the British interest and his performance will give him more food for thought.
Wiggins is at a crossroads in his career. He is talented, adaptable and fast, and he has the potential to win a lot more races and over a wide range, if he wants to. He could even win another Tour de France, if he wants it bad enough. And the Rio Olympics will be on his radar too. He’s won a gold medal at three successive Olympics, winning another would arguably make him the greatest British Olympian ever. Exactly where a knight of the realm should be really.