Wiggins, Froome and Grand Tour fitness
You can ride hard one day and then feel good enough to ride hard again the next day or you can ride hard one day and then need to spend the next day on the sofa drinking tea, eating sandwiches and moaning like one of the undead each time you get up. That’s Bradley Wiggins’ latest explanation as to why he’s not riding the Tour de France – or the gist of it anyway.
“There was a cut-off point and having gone back on the track early, I didn’t have the preparation.”
Basically, it’s one thing to ride quickly, but it’s a different kind of challenge to do it again and again and again, over the course of a three-week Grand Tour.
Because it’s pretty obvious that Wiggins can still do it for at least a day. Unwell and also giving the impression of being uninterested at the Tour de Suisse, he did little before falling off and abandoning. However, it was the British national time trial championship last night and he positively monstered the competition, beating second-placed Geraint Thomas by over a minute over the hilly 42km course. Alex Dowsett was another 30 seconds back in third, while Matt Bottrill the postman, who was runner-up last year, finished sixth, four minutes back.
A three-week race
The argument that Wiggins might not have Grand Tour fitness does actually make sense, but the simple fact is that this explanation has come long after he’d already said he was going to miss out. We all know why it would be difficult to get him into the team – his relationship with Chris Froome.
I touched on this a couple of weeks ago. It’s not so much that Froome is putting his foot down and won’t have him around so much as that everyone involved bar Wiggins thinks it would just be a massive great hassle having him there, even if he is a strong cyclist. Yes, it’s professional sport and they should all belt up, but it’s also more than three weeks spent living in each other’s pockets.
Imagine going on holiday for a fortnight with someone you hate. “Get the hell out of my pocket!” you’d be shouting by day three. “There’s nothing in there for you, you ballbag!”
So it would be with Froome and Wiggins. They’ve just cycled 200km, they’re tired and Wiggins has passed the pepper in what Froome deems to be an unusually provocative manner. It all kicks off and the sound of tibia on tibia rings out across the Team Sky canteen as the pair try and bonily shin each other into submission.
The roots of the enmity
You can go further and further back to find why the pair hate each other. Froome got to lead at last year’s Tour, Wiggins withheld Froome’s bonus from the 2012 Tour and before that there was the infamous incident when Froome attacked Wiggins for a bit during the race.
Going even further back, a lot seemed to happen at the 2011 Vuelta a Espana. That was a very awkward race for Wiggins because Froome – who was racing for his career at the time – ended up being the stronger rider. He came second and Wiggins came third and had Sky approached things differently, Froome would almost certainly have won.
Froome’s superiority was in large part down to Wiggins being short of racing after breaking his collarbone in that year’s Tour and so it wasn’t as big an embarrassment as it might otherwise have been. However, it probably planted a seed of insecurity which may well have led to an overreaction whenever he felt threatened by Froome. For his part, Froome probably feels a bit pissed off that he missed out on a Grand Tour because his team ordered him to look after a rider who wasn’t fully fit and who wasn’t as good in the mountains as he was.
The roots of the roots
But it seems that it was tense even before that. In his autobiography, Froome recounts how the pair were sharing a room at the start of the race and he says that Wiggins would pretty much blank him the whole time they were together.
Whether Wiggins had an inkling even then that Froome might threaten him, I don’t know. It seems unlikely being as Sky didn’t seem to know what they had on their hands. Dave Brailsford’s contract negotiations with Froome’s agent at that time basically amounted to: “Name one thing that he’s done.” But then again, they had training camps and power numbers, so perhaps the riders themselves sort of suspected what might happen.
If he did feel threatened, you can see why Wiggins might have taken against Froome and that feeling will only have grown more pronounced as later events unfolded. On the other hand, this story comes from Froome’s autobiography, so maybe he was exaggerating to make himself look like less of an arsehole.
You can probably go further and further back, tracing ever-more-trivial reasons for one to feel slighted by the other. Perhaps it all stems from one misunderstanding of the other person’s motives or a complete misinterpretation of a particular situation. Such are human relationships. No-one has the time to pick through history to find out it was all a whole load of nothing, so we just plough on, hating each other and being massive dicks because that’s what’s called for now.
I’d guess at heart it’s just how elite athletes are with people who threaten their superiority. They may race for the same team, but as far as everyone else is concerned, Froome and Wiggins are rivals. We want to know who’s the best cyclist. They know that we want to know that and yet they’re straitjacketed by team affiliation.
Wiggins will leave Sky, but it’s too late now. We’ll never really know who’s best and they’ll never really know either. Wiggins will win time trials, Froome will mountain stages and nothing will be resolved.