Former Tour de France winner Stephen Roche has said that he believes Team Sky is justified in leaving Bradley Wiggins off its Tour team, saying that team harmony and the synergistic effect of a well-chosen line-up are more important than the physical attributes of any one rider.
Roche famously battled his co-leader Robert Visentini for the 1987 Giro d’Italia title, being chased by his own team-mates at one point, and as a result knows what it is like to be part of a divided squad. He said that with Team Sky’s priority being a third Tour de France victory, anything that could make that task more complicated must be considered a risk.
“The team has to avoid internal conflict. There is enough conflict from the outside, from other opponents,” Roche told CyclingTips when asked to give his viewpoint on the matter. “The one thing you don’t want is problems internally.”
Wiggins created headlines on Friday when he told BBC television and radio that he was very unlikely to be part of Sky’s Tour de France team. He won the race in 2012 but there was visible tension between himself and Froome in the race, with the younger rider being asked to support Wiggins in the mountains and to hold back on more than one occasion.
Froome eventually finished second overall in Paris. The duo did not speak for an extended period of time afterwards and Wiggins withheld bonus payments which had been handed out to the others on the Tour squad.
The difficult relationship between the two was highlighted recently by Froome in his autobiography, in which he said that Wiggins was a complicated individual and that the team and other riders had to be careful about how they acted.
“We rode around him and his moods like he was a traffic island,” he wrote.
Speaking to the BBC on Friday, Wiggins said that he had several conversations with general manager Dave Brailsford and had been told he wouldn’t be riding. “As it stands today I won’t be on the start line at the Tour. The team is going to be based around Chris Froome, the defending champion,” he told 5 live. “Obviously he is bidding to win his second Tour.
“The selectors have decided that the team they have got is strong enough to do that. Personally I’m really disappointed. Having missed it last year due to injury, I’d worked hard all winter to get back to where I was in 2012. I’ve come off quite a successful year. But at the same time I understand why they have done that and that it is not about one man, it is about the team, coming back with a second Tour.”
Brailsford has since indicated that the final team lineup hasn’t been decided, but Wiggins feels he will not be part of it.
Roche said the difficult relationship between the two riders is the issue. “We have seen in the past that the fuse is quite easily lit with Bradley and Froome. We saw that a couple of years ago that when they were having their head to head during the Tour. Even the wives got involved. It was a bit ridiculous at the time, but that is the way it is. That is modern sport for you.
“I think the team and especially the sponsor want to very much avoid those sort of problems. So for me the decision is totally understandable.”
He suggested that the team’s overall strength means it is in a position to do so. “It is great to have the option to leave someone like Bradley Wiggins at home [to have the rider level to be in the position of choice – ed]. It is very comfortable for the team. I am sure they would have liked to have had Bradley Wiggins’ experience and skills beside Froome, but independent of that they had to look at it in light of it being a three week long event. That’s the issue.
“In any three week event, there will always be friction and tensions in the last week as everyone is so tired, whether it be personnel, riders, management. In every team, no matter what they say, there is always friction there in that third week. Everyone is under pressure.
“In the first week, things can happen and nobody raises an eyebrow, but in the last week everyone gets very narky over the smallest little thing.
“Tours are generally won and lost in the last week, so they cannot take any risk that there could possibly be any rupture.”
“Bradley isn’t that bad, but he has his own attitude.”
Almost every rider who wins the Tour has the goal of trying to defend the title the following season. However Wiggins is one of a very small number of riders who decided not to do this, declaring at the presentation of the 2013 Tour de France in October 2012 that he would willingly give up that chance to instead try to win the Giro d’Italia.
“I am probably going to concentrate on the Giro next year, because for me it is the only other race on the cycling calendar – along with Paris-Roubaix – that is up there with the Tour de France in terms of historicalness,” he told Eurosport then. “It is just beautiful. I’d love to win that pink jersey.
“My priority will be the Tour of Italy. It has become apparent that it is very difficult to compete in two Grand Tours at that level, so it is more than likely that I will be there [at the Tour] in a helping capacity.”
He said then that he would ride for Froome in the race, but ultimately didn’t perform in the Giro d’Italia and pulled out injured. He didn’t start the Tour, which Froome went on to win.
Roche feels that success effectively handed team leadership to Froome, and that Wiggins can’t now automatically expect Tour selection.
“That has been a bit of Bradley’s attitude over the past couple of years. He hasn’t really been too coherent in what he is saying. People basically take it as it comes as he is quite capable of changing [his mind] – Paris-Roubaix was a non runner for him before, but now he loves Paris-Roubaix.
“I think that it maybe didn’t do him any good [to make that decision about not defending the Tour] as it can definitely be thrown back at him today. And rightly so – he said what he said at the time, he can’t go back on it now. So I think that is it. The cake is cooked.”
Wiggins has said that he only way he believes he could do the Tour de France again would be to move to another team. He has been linked to a possible contract with Orica GreenEdge, although both he and the team have said that no serious negotiations have started at this point in time.
Asked if he believed this could be a good fit, Roche said that it was up to Wiggins himself. “If he puts his mind to it, Bradley can get on in most teams. But it depends on who he is with. He is the kind of guy who needs a lot of space around him when he wants space. He is very individual in that way. When he wants space, he has to have space. When he wants attention, he needs attention. It has to be there.
“I think Bradley is a strange person, a likeable/hateable guy, but he has got a good track record in racing and getting results. It is the same with football – you tolerate certain things because they are super athletes, but in the normal world you wouldn’t tolerate a tenth of the things people do.
“Bradley isn’t that bad, but he has his own attitude.”
He said that he believes this was all taken into consideration by Team Sky when it was deciding whether or not he should get a start in the race. “They know their man very well. They are the ones who brought Bradley to winning the Tour de France. They know his attitude, his good points and his bad points,” he said. “I think Brailsford has managed the team in a way over the last couple of years to win. He hasn’t put together a team just with the best riders available, he has combined cyclists in terms of mental and physical attributes to get the best general combination there is available to him.
“I think that physically, yes, Bradley would be a good choice, and also in terms of decisions and tactics made on the road, but Brailsford has to add in the possibility of them having a fight or an argument. If there was a chance of that, it could be tactically, physically, mentally, morally and commercially bad.
“Look, with the cost of teams these days, I am sure Brailsford is saying, ‘shit, I am paying this guy big money and leaving him at home.’ I am sure that Sky are looking at this the same way. But they are going into the Tour to win the Tour, and they want everything possible on their side so they can achieve that.”