Bradly Wiggins is “arrogant”, conceals himself in a “gruff geezer cloak”, and so dominated the atmosphere around the 2012 Team Sky Tour de France squad that the others on the team had to “ride around his moods like he was a traffic island”.
These are the words of Christopher Froome, written in his new autobiography The Climb, currently being serialised in the British newspaper The Times.
Froome goes on to say he was not invited to the ‘Yellow Ball’ Wiggins threw later in the year to celebrate his victory, nor given his share of the bonus that is traditionally dished out to the riders on the winner’s team.
Wiggins gives the impression he hasn’t got much time for what other people think, but in this case he’d best be bothered, as Froome is Sky’s main man for the 2014 Tour de France and will start as race favourite.
Froome has a great chance to defend his 2013 title and it would come as a great surprise if he is not pivotal in choosing the rest of the team.
There was a sense in 2013 that Dave Brailsford, Sky’s man behind the controls, owed Froome for the way he rode for Wiggins in 2012. Froome entered that race, which saw Wiggins emerge as Britain’s first ever winner, fully expecting to go for the yellow jersey himself if the opportunity arose.
In 2011 it was touch-and-go whether Froome would stay with Sky, but contractual talks with Brailsford left Froome certain that he would be Wiggins’ equal. However, Froome came to realise he was always set to be Wiggins’ super-domestique in 2012, and felt that Brailsford had not been fully forthcoming.
“Dave’s approach was rather like a character in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass,” Froome writes. “When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean – ‘neither more nor less’. My understanding was that I would go to the Tour as a protected rider but the details were never teased out. Dave’s words would mean just what he chose them to mean.
“I realised, at last, that everything had been geared towards this. It was never going to be any different. The story was completed long before we got to France. Bradley wins. The book is written. The documentary is made. The promise is fulfilled. We had just been acting it out.”
Cue 2013 and Wiggins is having a stinker but Froome is replicating his teammate’s previous season, winning a series of important stage races through the year and stamping his credentials as Sky’s leader long before the Tour. The potential fireworks from a Wiggo/Froome battle royale at the Tour never come close to being realised. Froome dominates the Tour, winning at a canter.
Fast forward to 2014 and Wiggins seems somewhere near his best after a win at the Tour of California. Realising a desire still existed to partake in another Tour de France, Wiggins started to make conciliatory noises, saying he was ready to doff his chapeau and toe the party line.
“I’d love to be back at the Tour de France. That’s the long-term goal – to be part of that successful team,” he said back in April.
“I missed it last year and had to watch it on the TV. When you see it from the outside then you see just how great the Tour de France is. Obviously there’s a huge opportunity with it starting in the UK this year. Coming back as a former winner and it being there is fantastic.”
In March, Wiggo gave an interview to The Independent in which he stated his intention, if included in the Tour team, to support Froome.
“There were a couple of times last year when Chris was really isolated and I want to be in a position that I can be there when that happens,” he said.
Taking these words at face value, one could argue that Wiggins has had a change in attitude and is now willing to defer to Froome, who has proven to be superior in consistency and longevity. However, Wiggins’ appeals to Brailsford and Froome appear hollow and desperate.
Froome’s comments in his autobiography are his own personal opinion, but they echo what many cycling fans have been saying on club runs and on cycling forums for some time.
The timing of the release of Froome’s book couldn’t come at a worse nor more embarrassing time for Wiggins, sitting as he is on the bench, hoping to be picked for the Tour.
Brailsford may have felt like he owed Froome the team leadership in 2013 but he is a man with little time for sentiment, and this time around he knows he has a rider capable of bringing Sky their third Tour win in three years, a remarkable achievement by any standard.
He also knows that Froome needs to be protected from friction, and that he has men like Richie Porte to support him. Also, if and when the big men step up and Froome does become isolated, the Kenyan-born Briton has shown he can handle himself perfectly well alone.
The truth is that Wiggins has an ego the size of a jumbo jet, but one made out of egg shells. He is a winner, yes, and a fine bike rider, but he is also tetchy, rude, petulant and divisive when he wants to be.
Of the day in the Alps in 2012 when he rode away from Wiggins, Froome writes that he could not understand the furore his actions created. As far as he was concerned, he was defending the yellow for Sky, meaning that whether it was to ultimately rest on his or Wiggins’ shoulders, the important thing was just to win it.
“Brad was folding physically and mentally, and quicker than I had thought possible,” he writes. “I got the feeling that he would literally just get off his bike were I to carry on pushing. What was a simple and perfect plan to me seemed to translate for Brad into a public humiliation.”
There you have it. Wiggins is just not a team player. He was not in the Sky team that went to ride the Yorkshire stages recently, nor the one that went to scout out the cobbles.
If Wiggins is not invited to ride on the Sky team for 2014, he only has himself to blame.