Wiggins aiming at the Tour with Sky, but no room for Cavendish
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Saturday, February 06, 2010

Wiggins aiming at the Tour with Sky, but no room for Cavendish

by Ben Atkins at 5:22 PM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Interviews, Tour de France
 

Bradley Wiggins, fourth in last year’s Tour de France, pins on his first number as a Team Sky rider at the Tour of Qatar tomorrow. After his controversial transfer from Garmin-Slipstream, the multiple Olympic champion can’t wait to get going, as he said in an interview with the Times.

Despite being eager to take the start in Qatar though, he’s obviously not aiming for any kind of result there. Instead, this will be the first small step on the road to Rotterdam and the Tour de France.

Wiggins is keen to prove that last year’s fourth place was no fluke but knows who the man to beat will be: Alberto Contador, by common consent the best stage racer in the World right now.

“He is the best climber in the world,” said Wiggins. “But he’s human, he’s beatable.”

Wiggins’ emergence as a Tour contender began on stage 8 last year, and the climb to Andorra-Arcalis. “I felt amazing that day,” he said. “I knew then, from that one climb, it was a done deal, that I would be pretty hard to get rid of. I always knew I was capable of doing that, but it was like an arrival.

“I felt a lot of pain that day, but everyone around me was suffering and I was matching them, the leaders. You can tell who is in difficulty. Armstrong was the only one who looked comfortable. I gained confidence from seeing other people struggling.”

In the coming days, Wiggins knew that the whole World was watching him, wondering when this track rider and prologue specialist would show his true colours and crack; but he didn’t. “There was always the question, ‘When’s he going to blow himself out?’” he said. “Would I have a bad day?

“I now know what I am capable of. I know my body will hold up, mentally as well.” For Wiggins, after last year’s race: “the Tour is now the obsession”.

Wiggins has learned much from last year’s race; a lot about himself, but also a lot about his rivals and how they race. He’s now tailoring his training, not just for his own needs but also how to respond to others.

“So when we were training in the Majorca mountains last week,” he said, “we weren’t just riding hard uphill, we were trying to replicate how it is in a race. We had a motorbike with us, and that bike would attack me for 30 seconds, replicating an Andy Schleck attack, and I would chase the bike.”

Devil in the details

From studying video footage of last year’s race, Wiggins also knows how hard the Contador and Frank and Andy Schleck had to work to finally drop him on stage 17 to Le Grand Bornand.

“You see how hard they were trying,” he said. “You see the pain on their faces. They were so close to the edge and you think: if you had bridged the gap one last time maybe they wouldn’t have had another attack in them.”

The same is true with time trials, where Contador proved to be the best, even beating Fabian Cancellara in the 40.5km test around Lake Annecy. “At the time,” he said, “you lose 40 seconds to him and you think, ‘How could I make that up?’”

By studying the details though, Wiggins can see how much Contador gained from knowing everybody else’s times, by virtue of being the last rider on the road, and the draft effect he would have got from the Police outriders and media cavalcade.

Wiggins enjoyed a cordial relationship with seven-time winner Lance Armstrong, describing the American as a “gentleman”. He doesn’t necessarily assume that this good relationship will see them collude on the road though. “Maybe,” he said. “We don’t want to suggest that too much. And we’re not friends as in go out for a meal together. We’re rivals.”

On his move to Sky, there were a number of derogatory comments in the media over his apparent betrayal of Garmin and his former-teammates. Some of these came from compatriot David Millar.

“I was a bit disappointed with Dave’s comments, he got quite personal,” said Wiggins. “And he’s quite hypocritical because he was desperate to be a part of Team Sky.

“I’m just looking forward to pulling on a Sky jersey for the first time in a race," he said. This is where it starts. All the bulls*** will go to the side once we start to race.”

"Certain people have tried to suggest that they were almost mugged in the back alley," Wiggins told the Daily Mail, referring to reactions to his move that reverberated through the sport.

"It is just not true. Sky bought me out of my Garmin contract and Ben Swift was taken out of Katusha. Both teams did well out of it financially.

"There were settlements and that was just a bit of business to get the team off and running. We needed as many good British riders as possible."

Wiggins former manager Jonathan Vaughters doesn't see things that way, telling the Times, "If losing a key athlete cost us our place in the Tour, and because we weren’t in the Tour we lost the title sponsor, what’s that worth?" Vaughters explained. "Twenty million? Thirty million? It’s a domino effect. Losing Wiggins could have taken down the house."

Vaughters explained that he took the high road by letting Team Sky buy his contract out.  "If I was cantankerous this could have been a year and a half off Brad’s career, because he was in court. That would have been the worst-case scenario, but it was possible," he noted.

No room in the team for Cavendish

With ten stages in two Tours, including six in the last one, British sprinter Mark Cavendish is universally regarded as the fastest man in the World. For a British team like Sky, the opportunity to sign Cavendish after his current contract with HTC-Columbia expires must be great. This is not necessarily the case though, says Wiggins.

“It would be an issue,” he told the Times. “I know a lot of our riders that left Columbia — Thomas Löfkvist, Michael Barry, Edvald Boasson Hagen, Greg Henderson — they all left because they felt the whole team was built round Cav and they weren’t getting their opportunity.

“They came to Sky specifically to get more of a chance for themselves,” he said. “I know that [team principal] Dave Brailsford is quite keen that if Cav comes, that there won’t be a team built solely round him. So Cav may end up staying where he is, where he has a team which will build a lead-out train around him. That might be the sticking point in terms of Cav coming here.”

Wiggins doesn’t entirely rule out a reunion with his old Olympic Madison and six-day track partner, however unlikely it may be.

“But of course it’s a possibility,” he said. “Cav’s never mentioned it to me. Before last year, he never appeared to give it a minute’s thought. He’s always been super-happy and successful where he is. He didn’t want Team Sky to be a meal ticket for British riders, people who perhaps didn’t deserve their place. But it’s not been like that. It’s been a very selective process.”

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