Cycling has always been a sport that pushes forward a dominant leader, often on the back of sacrifices made by their team mates, and to the frustration to the new and up and coming. It is also a sport that has a history littered with internal team rivalries gone wrong. Roche and Visentini, Hinault and Lemond, Armstrong and Contador – as old as the mountains they climb dual leadership has just caused problems (but also a lot of podium spots). Riders inevitably reach the top of their game sometimes in the same window and on the same team, and look for “Their Time”. So knowing all of this, why do I feel like the Team Sky decision to not have Wiggins at the Tour alongside Froome is just wrong? When did Sky ever look at this sport and not try to change how things are done? Is this just Sky abdicating some good old people management? Or does Brailsford just have a gun to his head?
Cards on the table, I am a Wiggins fan. I love the sports personalities I follow to have personality. It is why I also love Cadel Evans so much. They say what they think, not what they are told to think, and don’t belch out clichés and scripts. They have another dimension that makes their given sports better for their presence. I loved watching McEnroe play even though he sounded like an ass and I didn’t really follow tennis. I loved Roy Keane even though he walked out on Ireland during a World Cup. The sports they graced were definitely better for them. I think Wiggins is one of those stars, a weird and wonderful personality that strives on support and confidence, and is a supreme athlete. The ultimate product of the British cycling system that the people behind Sky invented. When he is focused I can forgive the rest and want him on the biggest stage our sport has to offer. Sometimes managing that personality is part of the job and is just as important as managing his numbers. But Brailsford knows all this he helped make him who he is.
Is Wiggins “on” right now? Based on performance does he deserve a spot? I would argue yes, on one of those famous Sky spreadsheets he has to be sitting above Porte right now. His win at California was pretty impressive, even though none of the big name tour GC contenders were there. It is one thing to win the ITT, but another to win it by 44 seconds. That was an incredible ride. And despite what could only be described as Sky sending a young and inexperienced team to support him, he still dominated the climbs, mostly by himself. Just riding on the front and killing everyone else, including most of his team mates. I would love to have been in the team meeting back in the UK when Team Sky sat down and looked at the numbers after Mount Diablo. I think his ride in California shows he is back mentally and physically. He is riding like it is 2012 again. He came off that year having one of the most successful and intense years any cyclist could ever have, and he didn’t deal with it well. He showed up in 2013 unmotivated and what looked like burned out mentally. He is over it – cut him some slack.
Is it wise to put all your chips on a single rider? Not if you don’t have to. There are not too many teams graced with the GC talent of Sky. As we saw in Belfast at this years GIRO best laid plans can go wrong because of the smallest of things, like a slip on a manhole cover, and when they do, it is not a bad idea to have a back up plan. Having one of the fastest riders in the world, an ex Tour winner, And Olympic gold medalist as that back-up seems like a no-brainer. So a plan with Froome as a declared leader and Wiggins riding in support seems smart, but there just seemed to be no trust or effort to try and make it work. But I really find it hard to believe Wiggins would screw Froome on such a public stage when he is looking for a new contract with Sky or someone else.
They have both been as bad as each other. They both wrote books for money and slammed each other publicly. I have read a lot today about how “Wiggins made his bed….” by not giving Froome his winnings. I don’t disagree, that was petty, but I would also step back from that and ask why? What would you do? Froome attacks his leader, who was in yellow, going against team orders, that is a pretty serious motivating factor for not wanting to give Froome his “watch”. Froome may well have been stronger, but he wasn’t the leader. He wasn’t in yellow. That was a pretty big back handed slap he delivered to Wiggins in front of the entire cycling world. I believe they were both in the wrong, and as team mates should have been able to move on from it, especially if management helps that process. They obviously haven’t and it has been simmering ever since, basically keeping them apart in training and racing all year.
Could there be something else behind the omission? Well Wiggins is out of contract at the end of this season and probably only has a few more years left at this level (and he has expressed interest in the track at the next Olympics). Froome is a long term investment and a rider to build a dynasty around. This starts to look like Brailsford making a typically Brailsford-like unemotional analytical calculation on where to invest for the future of the team, and inadvertently telling the guy who brought Sky their dream year to go find another team. Wiggins isn’t the future of Sky, but he should be treated with more respect than this. On a spreadsheet Froome looks like the decision to make, but sometimes actual people don’t fit nicely into cells and rows and columns. There is no disputing the Team Sky methodology for squeezing out every Watt possible out of a rider, but they seem to be lacking some serious people management skills. They have let this situation boil for nearly two years and done very little to solve it. In fact they have actively avoided dealing with it. It now looks like both Wiggins and Cavendish the best two British riders ever have no place on a British team supposedly built for people just like them.
And this is coming from a team that traditionally challenges the way this sport has done things. They have changed this sport for the better. Made it faster, fitter, more professional. So why aren’t they also challenging their riders to take a different view of the traditional leadership structure? Even though Lemond and Hinault might have been “uncomfortable” it did provide some of the best riding and stories our sport has offered, and they both did finish on the podium. It was great to watch. Nothing would have made me happier this year than to see Sky sweep the podium at the Tour, and set another record. With Froome, Porte and Wiggins that was not beyond possibility. In the end I wouldn’t have cared who stood on what step, although I have a feeling they would. Yes it is a very calculated decision to leave wiggins out for whatever reason but a damn heartless one. The team that invented “marginal gains” need to add another column to the spreadsheets for “Emotions”. In rejecting Wiggins I think they are depriving us of a story and a rider who could have brought another dimension to the biggest race in the world.