Lets get this out of the way now; if Chris Froome doesn’t win the 2014 Tour de France VCSE will not be too bothered. This doesn’t mean that Froome won’t win in July. His performance during the coming week at the Criterium du Dauphine will be a good indictator of his form against two of his chief rivals Alberto Contador and Vincenzo Nibali.
No, what’s got the VCSE Froome voodoo doll out of its box is the omission of ‘teammate’ Bradley Wiggins from Sky’s Tour team and all the signs suggest that Froome is the architect of Wiggins non selection.
So why is this a problem? The relationship between the two has been well documented here and elsewhere and it’s hardly a secret that the two aren’t best of friends. But surely the selection of the Tour team should be based on form and on this basis alone it’s staggering that Wiggins hasn’t been picked. There hasn’t been much comment from Sky officially since Wiggins appeared to breakfast TV last week and announced he was “gutted” that he wasn’t doing the Tour despite being (in his view) “..in the form I was two years ago” when he won the 2012 Tour and the Olympic TT gold medal.
There was much speculation ahead of Wiggins announcement that he wouldn’t be at the Grand Depart in Yorkshire and VCSE predicted as much in the aftermath of his overall victory at the Tour of California. Much of the justification given for a potential Wiggins omission ahead of the riders confirmation that he wouldn’t be riding was based on Froome’s need for riders around him that would work for him. So far, so reasonable, but since the start of the year Wiggins has been clear that if selected he would ride for a Froome victory. Wiggins has been incredibly consistent about this and if we take his statements at face value he’s showed an incredible amount of humility for someone who dominated the race as recently as two years ago. In any other team, in current form, he would be an undisputed leader.
However this is not any other team and Dave Brailsford has painted himself into a corner with Froome. It’s fair to say that of the two riders Froome is perhaps by a small margin the better rider. The way he rode on the second Pyrenean stage in last years Tour demonstrated just what a talented rider he is, holding onto to the race lead in the face of concerted attacks from other teams and with no teammates left in support. But this is less about who is the stronger rider or the most likely to deliver a third Tour victory in a row for Sky, than what would be the best team. The way Wiggins destroyed the peloton by riding on the front alone and at pace on the Mount Diablo climb in the Tour of California would have made most people say (you would think) he should be in the Tour squad. After the debacle of the first half of 2013 Wiggins has won two week long stage races, been in contention for Paris Roubaix and dominated TT’s. Within weeks of finishing in the top ten and Paris Roubaix he had shed kilos to get into the kind of physical condition he was in at his best in 2012.
None of this seems to matter to Froome and Brailsford though. The suggestion is that Froome doesn’t want Wiggins in the Tour squad whatever his condition and despite the potential advantage that the 2012 winner could provide. It appears that Froome’s ‘issues’ with Wiggins goes back further from his short lived ‘rebellion’ at the 2012 Tour where he rode away from Wiggins in a demonstration of superiority on the climbs. The dislike apparently stems from a supposed lack of support from Wiggins to Froome when he was in danger of losing his place on Sky during the 2011 Vuelta. Ironically this proved to be Froome’s breakthrough race and some argue that he could have taken the overall if he had been allowed to ride, rather than support Wiggins who eventually finished third to Froome’s second place finish.
Froome then doesn’t forget a slight, perceived or real and it would seem from this point on Wiggins was in his sights and has been ever since. Whether or not this was (or is) reasonable behaviour requires better knowledge of what went on in that Spanish hotel room during that race. Wiggins is acknowledged as not the easiest person to get along with but as the undisputed figurehead of the Sky team (at the time) it might be suggested that those around him needed to adapt to his behaviour and not the other way around. It would be interesting to imagine history taking a divergent course at the end of 2012 where Wiggins was prepared to maintain the training regime that had brought such success and go for a follow up Tour win in 2013. Instead Wiggins was shunted to an ill fated attempt on the Giro after privately making clear to Sky that he couldn’t make the same sacrifices required to deliver a Tour win.
This was Wiggins downfall and where Froome fills the mould that Dave Brailsford looks for in a grand tour rider to back. For all of the jokes about ‘Chris Froome looking at stems’ it’s his metronomic approach that makes Froome the better fit for Brailsford in the Sky set up. No doubt Sky still recognise that Wiggins has the kind of reach (particularly in Britain) that Froome can currently only dream of. As personable as Froome can be on camera, it’s unlikely that people will be hanging on his every word. He will parrot the party line where Wiggins can go off message in way that would frustrate Brailsford but delight fans. There’s unlikely to be that much of a backlash against Sky when the Tour gets underway in Yorkshire. The team are pretty much ‘Team GB’ by proxy in the UK, but in a World Cup year and with Commonwealth Games competing for the back pages in addition to the rest of the summer sport Wiggins absence will not help the profile of the Tour. It speaks volumes for the arch pragmatism of Brailsford that he will put the (potential) result ahead of any marketing consideration.
This a relatively uninformed viewpoint on the whole Wiggins / Froome saga and VCSE is firmly in Team Wiggo. Reliant on the public statements of each rider the reality of the situation can be judged as much on what Wiggins has said and the absence of anything from Froome on the matter. Probably wisely he’s keeping schtum on a argument he won’t easily win. He’s also hamstrung by the fact that it’s very hard to find a classy way of saying he just doesn’t like Wiggins. If you’re inclined to take Wiggins statements at face value it does seem odd that Froome could argue that Wiggins shouldn’t be included on form or that he wouldn’t honestly fulfil a designated support role.
Wiggins will now, barring any accidents for Froome in the Dauphine (oh the irony if that happens!), concentrate on the Commonwealth Games and may ride the track as well as the road. It will be interesting to watch Wiggins in the Tour de Suisse and see if he uses it as an opportunity to stick the metaphorical finger to Froome and Brailsford.
So what now for Sky’s cycling knight. There’s already speculation about Wiggins going to Orica Green Edge and he has admitted he hasn’t got an offer from Sky for 2015. Orica’s free wheeling and relaxed (in comparison to Sky) atmosphere would probably suit. There are other possible destinations; a return to Garmin would tie in with Wiggins apparent desire to build his profile in the US but VCSE wouldn’t rule out a possible move to BMC if Cadel Evans hangs up his cleats at the end of this year.