Team Sky’s statement that Bradley Wiggins will not defend his Tour de France title has sent shockwaves through cycling.
The defending champion had struggled to recover from a combination of illness and injury in time to train with the intensity needed to regain his best form in time for cycling’s greatest race.
Wiggins will be forced to follow the events of the Tour from his television screen for the second time in three years after crashing out of the 2011 race in the first week.
Here are five observations on his disappointing campaign in 2013 – and how he can comeback stronger.
Wiggins has ridden the 2013 season in the manner of man seeking renewed motivation. Having been to the summit in 2012, an incomparable season that also included victories in Paris-Nice, the Tour de Romandie, and the Criterium du Dauphine, as well as the twin jewels of the Tour and the Olympic time trial, finding the will to do it all again was always going to be a challenge.
A second Grand Tour triumph with victory at the Vuelta a Espana and a world time trial title 10-days later in Florence would provide a spectacular turn-around to Wiggins’ season. He must set goals that will inspire him. For all the talk of the lustre of the Giro, it was clear that the Tour commanded Wiggins’ greater attention.
Wiggins needs to focus more on his own campaign, and less on that of Chris Froome. Froome’s perceived disloyalty in last year’s Tour, a subject that commands almost an entire chapter of Wiggins’ My Time book, one pointedly titled ‘Under Attack’, has become an unhealthy obsession, and fuel seemingly to Froome’s fire. Wiggins’ statement of intent for the Tour given at the Giro pre-race conference seems misjudged with hindsight.
If Wiggins’ disinterested performance at the Tour of Oman, the only race he has ridden with Froome this season, was a statement about the level of support the latter could expect at the Tour, it was self-defeating. Froome won without the help of his illustrious team-mate, and handsomely, and has only failed to win on one occasion since, when he finished second to newly-crowned Giro d’Italia champion, Vincenzo Nibali (Astana), at Tirenno-Adriatico.
When you’re hot, you’re hot. And when you’re not…
Wiggins’ season can be seen as a parallel to cycling’s other huge star of 2012: Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma-QuickStep). Everything Boonen touched last year turned to gold, a season in which he won cobbled Classics seemingly at will, and broke records almost for fun. By the end of April, Boonen had won E3 Harelebeke, Gent-Wevelgem, the Tour of Flanders, and Paris-Roubaix, becoming the first rider to win all four in a single season. He equaled Roger de Vlaeminck’s 35-year record with his fourth victory at Roubaix and by doing so became the first rider to complete a second Ronde-Roubaix double in a single season, having previously won both races in 2005. Impressive.
This year? Illness, injury, and crashes, and a poor season begun at the Tour of Oman. Sound familiar? Such is the enormous challenge of winning the world’s greatest bike races that intentions and reputations are rarely enough, and form and condition are the minimum requirements. Mechanical failures at the Giro del Trentino and Giro d’Italia have typified Wiggins’ season, while Nibali sailed an untroubled course to victory in both races. Some things are beyond the control even of Team Sky.
Serenity = victory
Perhaps the greatest difference in Wiggins’ approach to 2013 from last year’s campaign is his attitude. The negativity to Chris Froome aside, Wiggins has succumbed to frustration, resuming the bike tossing displays not seen since the 2009 world time trial championships by throwing his bike against a wall on the fourth stage of this year’s Giro del Trentino.
Compare and contrast with last year’s final stage time trial at the Tour de Romandie where he retained his composure, waiting with icy calm for a replacement machine, before resuming his effort and pedaling to victory over Andrew Talansky (Garmin-Sharp) by a single second, giving him a race-winning, 12-second margin over the American on GC. Marginal gains? Wiggins knows first-hand the benefits of keeping calm.
Write off Wiggins at your peril
With a winless campaign in 2013 to date, it’s worth reminding ourselves that Wiggins is one of the world best’s bike riders, and a formidable competitor. While this season has been disappointing, it does not represent a rider in terminal decline.
A solid campaign at The Giro del Trentino might have yielded more, had a mechanical not cost him the effort of chasing back to the lead group, leaving him unable to respond to Nibali’s subsequent race-winning attack.
Wiggins has come back from adversity before, most notably in 2011 when a crash on stage seven of the Tour saw him exit cycling’s biggest race in the opening week. His comeback at the Vuelta yielded a podium. A victory this year would announce his return in still more emphatic style.