The Wiggins Dilemma

The Wiggins Dilemma

Bradley Wiggins has taken to the media to lament his omission from Sky’s Tour de France squad. Not yet mid-June and we have our first Tour de France drama. Oh thank heaven!

So Wiggins gave an interview in which he said he was “gutted” (some ex-deer might argue the point) to be left off Sky’s Tour de France team. The bulk of the squad is currently racing the Criterium du Dauphiné, supporting Froome, who seems to be destined not only to win that race, but to start the Tour with everyone wondering just what to do about him, and if anything can be done about him.

I’m of the opinion that some of the greatest Tours in history were those where leadership of the team wasn’t settled in everyone’s mind. The 1986 duel between Bernard Hinault and Greg LeMond might have gotten even more interesting after director Paul Koechli told Andy Hampsten, “Andy, there’s no reason the team doesn’t want YOU to win the Tour,” save for the fact that Hampsten was much too decent a guy to attack his teammates.

Stephen Roche’s mutiny in ’87 has often been portrayed (by the English-speaking press) as a reasonable outcome given his greatness, but the more balanced accounts of the time show a team no less split than La Vie Claire was the year before. Arguably, the most accurate portrayal of Roche’s betrayal was contained in Bill McGann’s “The Story of the Giro d’Italia.”

And let’s be honest, no matter how much you hate the L-word, the fireworks within Astana in ’09 were every bit as bright and noisy as anything you’ve seen on the Fourth of July. It made for some very memorable racing.

That was the same year that Bradley Wiggins had his breakout performance while riding for Garmin-Chipotle, finishing just off the podium. Following that single season, he left the team for a four-year deal with Sky which is fairly rare given the number of two-year deals out there. Of course, Wiggins couldn’t just go quietly. No, he had to insult Jonathan Vaughters and the rest of the organization on the way out by saying, “I’m playing at Wigan at the moment so I have to make that step up”. In comparing Garmin to Wigan and Sky to Manchester United, he did less to praise Sky than pee on the reputation of Garmin. It was not the first time he’d used the press to make a point, but it was the first time his words picked up momentum once in print. 

By pleading his case to ride the Tour publicly, he’s attempting to use the press again. It’s an interesting strategy. Calling on popular support is a tradition that works for those in the public eye. The thing is, Wiggins is really not very good at it.

By slagging Garmin on the way out he showed that he’s not above airing dirty laundry. That must surely have put Sky director David Brailsford on notice. And one wonders what must have been said behind closed doors for him to decide he’d tell the world that he wouldn’t be at the Tour even before Sky announced their Tour team. Most teams have their A-list of riders who will be at the Tour, barring a crash or alien abduction, but the rest of the riders usually have no idea whether they will be there or not until they get a phone call the day before the press release. One wonders whether Wiggins had been told anything at all or whether he was making a preemptive announcement as a means to disrupt the selection.

Naturally, Brailsford denied that Wiggins had been left off the team, or that any decisions had been made. He also denied that Froome had the power to select who was on the squad. However, it’s not for nothing that Froome and Wiggins haven’t raced together since last fall.

If it turns out that Wiggins isn’t selected for the Tour de France, it won’t be for lack of form, judging from his win at the Amgen Tour of California. No, it will likely be that mouth of his. Perhaps you recall his outburst at the stage 8 press conference of the 2012 Tour:

“Honestly they’re just fucking wankers. I can’t be doing with people like that,” said Wiggins.

“It justifies their own bone idleness, because they can’t ever imagine applying themselves to anything in their lives.

“And it’s easy for them to sit under a pseudonym on Twitter and write that kind of shit rather than get off their arses and apply themselves and work hard at something and achieve something.”

Let it be known that that was the first time the phrase “fucking wankers” was uttered during a Tour press conference. Not that he wasn’t right, mind you.

His inability to follow any form of decorum makes him a loose cannon, which isn’t criminal in a team leader, but it has the potential for disaster when it comes in the form of a support rider. If he’s left home, he can’t blame anyone but himself.

But Brailsford has a clear dilemma. The Tour is anything but a sure thing, even for a returning winner. To leave a rider as fit as Wiggins is at home is a bit like shooting an action flick in black and white. We wouldn’t want the explosions to look too real, now would we?

Froome will be at a disadvantage on Stage 5 from Ypres, Belgium, to Arenberg Porte du Hainaut, France. This is the stage that takes in cobbles, the very terrain where Wiggins proved himself worthy with his ninth-place finish at Paris-Roubaix. Sky doesn’t have a more capable rider to shepherd Froome through that terrain.

And what if Froome crashes during that stage or some time later? There’s this handy thing that most good organizations have, it’s called Plan B. And don’t say Richie Porte. Porte is to Wiggins what Patton Oswalt is to Bruce Willis. He’s likable, but he’s bankable as a leading man, at least, not yet.

Still, Wiggins could find himself watching the Tour in the pub. And if that happens, we’ll be left with one conclusion: Wiggins may go down as the most disruptive rider the peloton has seen. That could make his search for a new team pretty entertaining.

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  1. Hoshie99

    I particularly like it when he uses the c word to describe the people who question him. Let’s face it, a salty Brit with emotional problems makes for some entertaining sport indeed.

    Look, just because Hinault / Lemond made good TV and press, doesn’t mean a cohesive team strategy isn’t a better choice. If I was in Brailsford’s shoes, if Froome is healthy post Dauphine, I’d have him as plan A, Porte as a mtn stage hunter or GC plan B, and everyone else chosen for the main plan. Wiggins and Froome together would be a headache I wouldn’t want to have as a manager.

    Bummer for Wiggins but he did it to himself and the recent press outburst proved the point further. It also takes “2 to tango” and the recent Froome book is similarly bitchy from the quotes I read. Two prima donnas, although of different stripes, is what made people like Phil Jackson’s job hard so perhaps Brailsford is earning his pay.


  2. JohnK

    excellent article. I know it makes sense from a Sky perspective, but given their current form, wouldn’t you just love to see Contador, Froome, Quintano, and Wiggins at the head of affairs?

  3. Rod

    I agree with your conclusion – if Wiggins is sidelined, it’s because his ability on the bike is not worth the trouble, especially as a team’s second fiddle.

    That said, sometimes I get the irksome suspicion that Sky is a media company, that Murdoch owns News of the World, and that beyond the actual team workings they are probably delighted at all the media exposure they are getting before a pedal is even turned. I’m not a conspiracy theorist that thinks behind closed doors Wiggins and Froome are sharing beers, but that we are fed tasty tidbits at appropriate times by an organized media group.

    1. Author

      I bet Rupert Murdoch loves the in-fighting, if he’s paying attention. I really hope Wiggins is at the Tour. I want some flies in the ointment. We need a good villain.

  4. Aar

    I find Wiggo entertaining and hope Brailsford puts him on the team. I also hope the green jersey remains undecided to the Champs.

  5. SusanJane

    Call me silly, or worse I guess, but I want to watch bike racing not some testosterone soap opera. I have always assumed that Wiggins was on the wink-wink side of making noise with the media. He is far from being a stupid man. Emotions aside, Wiggins is more then capable of controlling his outbursts, profanity, and strategically planned comments. He literally shopped this round of feud by carefully going to all the right media outlets to drop tidbits and nuggets of the latest. We’re following him from Le Equipe to all the rest for interviews. Then the expected comments from Froome and all the rest. The sad part is everyone buying into the theater and thinking that this is bike racing.

    Don’t get me started on Bernard Hinault and Greg LeMond. There was huge amounts of theater there, too.

    And teams don’t come to California to win the race. Everyone knows this is a fun way to make the sponsors happy. If you compare most European stage races, California is just not that challenging. Americans want to believe that so the media plays it up. Wiggins winning here is just not that big of a deal — there are no world tour points only tourist dollars and rolling billboards. Before you argue with me just tell me that the tour of California carries as much weight on a palmares as one in Europe. My guess is Wiggins doesn’t even include this win on his… especially since he’s burned his bridges with American teams.

  6. Tom in Albany

    I just can’t wait until Sky doesn’t re-sign Wiggins and he’s got to find him mouth another job…

  7. Full Monte

    Richie Porte’s form is in question this season (some say he’s gone to a gluten and carb-free diet, which is causing stomach problems and endurance issues).

    And I’ve heard there’ve been “conversations” between Sir Wiggo and Orica GreenEdge, who would love to sign a big GC contender next year.

    SusanJane, I agree that Amgen is more theater for American fans than it is serious competition, and that most riders treat the event as a tune-up and fitness builder, but with that said, Wiggins dominated the field, showing excellent form (he even said he felt his form was as good as it’s ever been).

    With Richie questionable as a reliable lieutenant for Froome, and Wiggins riding strong, Brailsford would be crazy to leave Wiggins home. Wiggins has (slyly) stated he’d ride in support of Froome, unless or until Froome struggled and appeared out of contention (which, barring injury or sickness, doesn’t look likely).

    I’d love nothing more to see Wiggins alongside Froome at the TdF, with commentators and reporters trying to interpret every glance and word exchanged between the two. It would be the lead story of the Tour, and Sky could bank on monopolizing the coverage (hint, Mr Murdoch).

  8. Larry T.

    It wasn’t that long ago the SKY folks pretty much hired a whole lot of dodgy characters in their no-holds-barred effort to win Le Beeg Shew. They aren’t stupid, but I think they think WE are. All those folks with doping past history, once the Yellow Jersey was “done and dusted” as the Brits like to say, were suddenly “discovered” to have dodgy pasts and quickly shown the door. It’s a long list. And they certainly knew Wiggo was, well, let’s say a character. But if he could win LeTour for them, they didn’t care, just like they didn’t care their doctor had a shady past or that more than a few of their riders did as well. Now they have Froome to win the big prize again, so Wiggo is yesterday’s news. They’d probably sack him if they could, but instead are trying to figure out another way to get some use out of him while not upsetting the Froome-based program that worked so well for them last year. I’d rather see pretty much ANYONE else win LeTour than Froome if only from an aesthetic viewpoint – the guy’s just UGLY, UGLY, UGLY to watch. He reminds me of those old cartoons where the skeleton played his rib cage like a xylophone!

  9. Dave King

    I must respectfully disagree that Wiggins is “right” in calling them “fucking wankers” and that they haven’t done anything with their lives. After the last 20 years of doping, it’s hardly surprising (and actually quite reasonable) that many would be skeptical. Especially when “clean” performances reach the level of the previous doping era (as has shown to be the case) within only a few years. It’s been well documented that athletic performances generally advance VERY slowly (i.e., over decades) especially when the sport is not in its infancy. So to suddenly see clean performances matching those of the recent doping era should prompt any reasonable person to ask some questions. And who is to say that these nay-sayers have done nothing with their lives? One of the skeptics is a medical doctor (the veloclinic blog), so I don’t think it’s fair to say he hasn’t poured his life into his profession.

    In my opinion, Wiggins came out looking like a defensive cry-baby in the TdF 2012 given that the questions and accusations were not so far off base given what had been witnessed the previous 2 decades and when he broadly paints ALL of his detractors as being wankers and do-nothings. He looks nothing like the courageous outspoken anti-doping advocate he had been previously.

    1. Author

      Dave: When you parse his statement that way, I do agree. My crack had more to do with his point about the vitriol that can be so easily dispensed through the anonymity of teh Interwebs.

    2. Dave King


      LOL! I guess I can see how you can relate to the anonymous vitriol of the internet better than I. I just think that he, and many others, don’t allow any room for the skeptics – who aren’t being unreasonable and who bring some very good points to the table but are again being asked to take performances at face value. And his response to the questions and accusations was very similar to the angry denials we had heard many times in the past from past dopers. In addition, Team Sky makes lots of noises about being transparent but in practice are anything but – which only feeds the fire of conspiracy theorists.

      I’m not totally against Wiggins. In fact, I thought his ride in Paris Roubaix (the first TdF winner to ride PR since Lemond in 1992!) was fantastic. And that his ride in the ToC was very impressive. He’s a pleasure to watch pedaling a bicycle. It’s hard to believe Sky would leave a past TdF winner at home, esp when he is on good form. With all the crashes in the first week of the Tour in recent years, you never know if your leader will emerge unscathed and having a backup also puts them in the enviable position strategically.

    3. Author

      Dave: I completely agree that Wiggins’ responses to questions regarding doping were really tone-deaf. He really didn’t appreciate that anything he said could easily have come out of Armstrong’s mouth. That lack of sophistication wasn’t reassuring, either. Like you, I don’t have it in for him, but I think he would do well to respect the environment in which he works and respect the necessary skepticism the press shows for his performances. Being hostile to the press only makes his job harder.

  10. Willoughby

    Wiggo already said that he would ride in support of Froome this year so why not include him on the team as a better plan B than Porte? Froome is afraid Wiggo will do to him what he did to Wiggo in the ’12 Tour.

  11. Souleur

    All good points Padraig, and at this time, we can all have a good discussion about it

    I personally have been in a bit of awe over Sir Bradley. He is a colorful personna for sure, his exploits off the bike are as interesting as he is on the bike. My first impression is agreed about his splitting with Garmin-chipotle. Perhaps he was a bit younger at the time, vocal, and in his mind right in all, however, tact would not have hurt him at all. I think he has grown a good bit since. But I am as enamored of his post-Tour victory march and his lack of interest til now to return. I mean, I cannot remember the last (certainly not recent) Tour winner who did not defend the malliot-juane the following year. Nonetheless, all in all in my opinion, it is making for some fantastic future racing….

    Froome, as it is well known is less than best friends with Sir Bradley. I personally think Froome was disappointed in his support role of him until last year, as Froome was in someways superior than the winner, and after winning himself, this is a clash of two true greats. Now, given all things considered, who knows where everyone ends up at the end of a year, but if there were to be showdown, it will be something, not to mention toss in a dark horse or two.

    I think its all good myself

  12. SusanJane

    Remember when Wiggins was going on about wanting to go back to the track and how he was done with road racing? Sure Sky had an unpleasant talk with him about his contract and he decided he’d better get back to training. That sort of attitude problem is bad enough. But Froome made it very clear in his book that Brad is not his favorite after all their troubles. Wiggnins strikes me as incapable of being the good domestique with that kind of bad blood. Yes, he says he’ll play by the rules, yet goes on about how he deserves to be in the Tour as if it were all about him. If he wanted in so badly why did he only win in California? He certainly came out with a whole lot more wins before he took yellow to Paris. Attitude and ego are big parts of winning (and losing) bike races. Wiggins have plenty of attitude but it doesn’t seem like the winning kind… and worse not the kind that makes an ideal domestique.

  13. jorgensen

    Keeping the two apart has just intensified the situation.
    I can see the scenario, Wiggins left off the roster, the inhaler and a dosage error removing the other.
    The result would not be good for the team boss’s fortunes.

  14. John Kopp

    Good article for discussion, Padraig.

    I would like to see Wiggo I the Tour this year. He has been treated badly by Sky last year and this. His comments are colorful, but no more offensive than comments from some cycling officials. Chris Froome showed Sky’s true colors last year when he cheated on the climb up Alpert d’Hues by taking food and drink from the team car when not allowed. Gave him a big advantage IMO. And in just the last week, Froome admits using an inhaler while racing, and claims it’s perfectly alright. I was under the impression that that required a TUE, and even then, some riders have been sanctioned for it. It just makes me believe Sky will win at any cost, so what else are they doing that we don’t know about.

    I’m not saying I am against PEDs, just that it’s enforcement is grossly unfair.

  15. Pat O'Brien

    I remember one rider, Vino I think, in the TdF years ago say his team had two riders capable of winning, and the other teams would have to guess which one to cover in an attack. But, I think a TdF team is just like the “Highlander” movie. “There can be only one.”

  16. gmknobl

    I think it’s all moot now since Wiggins apparently decided to go to the track, put on a few pounds and maybe didn’t have his psyche into doing well in the Tour de Suisse. That’s too bad though ’cause he didn’t realize the script included some BIG problems for Froome on the last couple of stages of the Dauphine.

  17. souleur

    agreed with Gmknob
    he may have grumbled, but perhaps its a mutually positive decision and direction here…after all?

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