It’s takes a lot for a Brit to forego the chance of Olympic gold medal success. To defend a crown in front of a passionate home crowd on the Velodrome. That’s exactly what Bradley Wiggins has done.
On Sunday 20th of February 2011, Wiggins was part of a British Quartet that dominated New Zeland in the Teams Pursuit at the Manchester World Cup. At the time, Wiggins, a three time Olympic gold medallist, was on track to defend the teams title in London. But it was to be the last time he stepped onto the boards in competition.
At the time, the talk of a Tour/Track Olympics double was in the air. Glory on the cobbles of the Champs Elysees, and on the pine of East London. But something changed. A perfect storm of circumstance. Now it’s Yellow in Paris that drives Wiggins, rather than Gold in London.
From a surprise fourth place in the 2009 edition of La Grand Boucle, Wiggins crashed back down to Earth in his much hyped Sky Tour debut. The man to win the Tour for Britain. Twenty-Fourth on GC. A performance that cut him man deeply. “The first public failure of my career…..too pompous…..consistently mediocre…..” All these words uttered by Wiggins once the dust settled.
From being a Tour contender to one of the pack, needing to readjust and refocus.
First came a new philosophy within Team Sky. Collective responsibility. Look at all races not just Brad at the Tour. New coaching techniques and personnel. Then came a closer relationship between Track and Road. For Wiggins, this the point where his twin ambitions were supposed to begin. It turns out it’s where they ended.
For all the bullish talk prior to Manchester, it was the last hurrah in the Velodrome. Within four months, Wiggins had podiumed at Paris-Nice and won the Dauphine. Still the talk in British circles was of a triple Gold medal tilt. In reality, Wiggins had become a fully fledged road racer.
The Tour should have been confirmation of this. In peak physical condition his inexperience in a Grand Tour bunch cost him his collarbone and a place in the world’s biggest bike race. In the end, he sat at home watching a time trial decide the race. What if, what if, what if……
Six weeks later he was on two podiums. Third at La Vuelta. Second in Copenhagen at the World’s Time Trial.
As 2011 became 2012 the decision was formalised. The Track was gone. Focus now would be road, and road alone. Tour de France glory. Then the Olympic Time Trial. Not the double many envisaged two years prior.
Again the form lines speak positively. Paris-Nice victory. Dauphine victory. The double only ever done twice before. Two blokes called Anquetil and Merckx. Add the Romandie jersey to the mix and Wiggins stands alone.
And so to Liege and the Grand Depart. Team Sky are attempting an audacious move. Yellow and Green in Paris. Twin Gold in London.
It’s a high stakes game and they run the risk of losing the lot. The team is there for Wiggins once the roads head skyward, with Froome, Porte and Rogers ready to counter the moves that Evans, Sanchez, Gesink and Nibali through at them. But before that it’s about Cav. Stage wins to grab the green. Knees, Siutsou, Eddy Boss and Eisel in the train for their man. How much of a toll will this take out of the team come the third week? Can Wiggins maintain this exceptional form? Will Porte and Rogers have the energy in the tank to by up there fighting for Bradley come the Pyrenees? Can anyone really take enough time out of him in the mountains and defend it in the final time trial? So many questions. Evans is the only one who looks capable of challenging at this point. His attacks during the Dauphine, especially on the downhill, smack of a rider in decent form but a rider who knows that he must maximise every opportunity. Cadel cannot afford to reach the Chartres time trial with a deficit. Every second counts. No-one knows that more than man who missed the jersey by just twenty three of them in the past.
Cadel knows how to win this bike race. Brad doesn’t. The signs point to a battle royale.
Wiggins himself, is remarkably laconic about it all. There is a maturity about him as a rider, even if it doesn’t allows come across in his public pronouncements. (See his Romandie presser for more details http://road.cc/content/news/57430-thats-entertainment-bradley-wiggins-reinvents-post-race-press-conference-video )
The window of opportunity is closing. There is no Schleck or Contador to ride away from him in the hills. No super teams ready to dominate. This is his time. There may not be another. It’s all or nothing. The effort it will take to win the Tour has already compromised another track Gold. It may destroy his Time Trial hopes.
But it’s time. Glory in Paris, then a homecoming.
He believes he is ready. His team believes he is ready. Now he just has to prove it.