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Sky must pick Wiggins for the Tour if Froome hopes to win

Chris Froome could take yellow on Stage 5 of the Tour de France. (Image: Sky).
Expert
10th June, 2014
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1025 Reads

Sir Bradley Wiggins’ comments late last week that he didn’t expect to be riding at the Tour de France next month made for some great headlines.

Coupled with some serialised extracts from Chris Frome’s book The Climb, the headlines were explosive, but also a little disappointing.

When we’re talking about elite athletes, egos should be put aside for the team and the task ahead.

If you didn’t read Wiggins comments, he all but ruled himself due to Chris Froome being Sky’s number one.

“As it stands, I won’t be there, probably,” Wiggins said “The team is focused around Chris Froome, the defending champion who’s got a great chance of winning his second Tour and it’s decided that they’ll base the team around him, so unfortunately I won’t be there.”

Froome meanwhile, wrote about his pursuit of Vincenzo Nibali during Stage 11 of the 2012 Tour, after Wiggins had been dropped. Froome argued chasing Nibali was all about eliminating him as a rival to Wiggins, but Wiggins didn’t agree.

“[Sports director] Sean Yates was in my ear on the radio. ‘Froomey, Froomey, Froomey. I’m hoping you’ve got the okay from Bradley for that?’

“He was telling me that unless Brad explicitly said I could go, I would be having a spell in the naughty corner. I kept pushing. Then I heard Brad’s voice on the radio.

“‘NO-OOO, NO-OOO, NO-OOO.’

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“He sounded like a man who had just dropped his oxygen tank near the top of Everest. Brad was folding physically and mentally, and quicker than I had thought possible. 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.

“I slowed and waited for him. He hadn’t just cracked; I think he felt betrayed. By the time he was back in touch with me, Brad perked up a little. All the same, I knew that by nightfall I would be in the stockades.”

Of course, Wiggins went on to win the Tour with Froome 3:21 behind in second place, so the team ethic didn’t suffer too much in that race.

But what about 2014? What will and what should happen?

When Wiggins made his comments, my immediate thoughts were that he may be attempting to take all the heat out of the situation until the team is announced. But then I read Wiggins wasn’t sent to ‘reccy’ le Tour’s pave parcours or the Yorkshire stages, and instead of racing the Dauphine he’s off to the Tour de Suisse.

So maybe he won’t be at the Grand Depart in Leeds. But when you look at Wiggo’s comments, a few things stood out like the proverbial – the words “As it stands”, and “probably”. That’s hardly definitive.

As it stands, the Tour de Suisse hasn’t run yet, and given how well Wiggo rode in California, he could easily win in Switzerland. If he did, what then? Surely, his form would make his selection impossible to overlook?

It seems that’s how Sky chief Dave Brailsford is playing it, as he told David Walsh in the Sunday Times.

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Despite the impression that might have been created, the team for the Tour is not yet finalised. I will be the one making the decision on who is in that team. I speak with our performance team, the riders can offer an opinion but they don’t select the team and they never will.

We knew from last year that my job was to build a team around Chris Froome because he’s the rider most likely to win this year’s Tour de France.

In building that team, I have to take the group dynamic into consideration. Trust and harmony are important considerations and it’s a difficult decision. I’m not just talking about the harmony between Chris and Brad but harmony among all the riders and staff. People should be careful before thinking Chris is making decisions here. Chris is a great bike rider, he deserves to lead our team but ultimately he doesn’t pick the team. I do.

We have two world-class races this month, the Dauphiné and Tour de Suisse, Chris is in one, Brad’s in the other. Let’s see how they come out of those races because they will show us where we are.

Watching Froome race up the Col du Beal at the Dauphiné was as disturbing as it was enthralling.

Enthralling because of the duel with Alberto Contador. Enthralling because of the incredible pace and cadence Froome generated when he attacked with five kilometres, and then two kilometres to go.

Disturbing because it looked slightly improbable to maintain the pace and tempo Froome did, but he is one step removed from being a skeleton on a bike.

Also disturbing to see how totally Froome destroyed his own team. Richie Porte and Lopez Garcia lost more than 10 minutes, with only one teammate nearby, Mikel Nieve Ituralde at 1:27.

I can’t help thinking that Brad Wiggins would’ve managed a better effort than that, and even though Froome was able to hold off Contador’s ill-fated challenge, having a teammate on hand would’ve helped.

Robbie McEwen tweeted late on Tuesday afternoon he’d picked Wiggins for the Tour after Sky’s Dauphiné efforts.

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I am assuming McEwen meant stage one as in the first road stage, but I stand to be corrected. Regardless, he is correct on selecting Wiggins.

Froome is deservedly the Tour favourite, but the form Wiggins displayed in California and could repeat in Switzerland means he has to be squeezed in to the Tour nine. Then he and Froome will have to buckle down to ensure they secure a third consecutive win for Team Sky and a second for the Tour’s defending champion.

They could even go one-two, as they did in 2012. What’s not to like about that for Team Sky?

Meanwhile, if I was picking the BMC team for the Tour, I’d pick Cadel Evans for two reasons.

One, he deserves to properly say goodbye to the Tour after a disappointing 2013, when he finished 39th.

Two, he could really do a job for the team.

I’m not saying Cadel should make another tilt at a top 10 finish but, he would be the best super domestique.

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One complaint we often have about BMC at the Tour is how isolated Cadel was compared to his rivals. There was never anyone that could stay with Cadel. Why should Tejay van Garderen suffer a similar fate?

In Stage 2 at the Dauphine, he lost 2:38 to the ‘Froomeinator’ but also lacked support. Cadel, with his unmatched experience, could’ve kept Tejay a lot closer for much longer. In July he could do the same again.

This doesn’t seem to be an option at the moment, especially given the comments by BMC General Manager Jim Ochowicz to SBS’ Cycling Central during the penultimate stage of the Giro.

“For this year’s Tour de France, no. It’s not in his program. He’s put way too much into this Giro to be able to recover properly and get prepared for the Tour de France.”

He’s the boss, but to me, if it’s at all possible, then do it. It makes sense.

There’s talk of Cadel doing the Vuelta a Espana and pushing once more for a podium. That would be great, but the real excitement would be giving Cadel a farewell lap of France and a chance to properly anoint his successor at BMC.