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.