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Recent murmurs that Bradley Wiggins will likely leave Team Sky at the end of this season have moved a lot closer to certainty, with the Briton confirming Friday that he won’t be doing this year’s Tour de France and that he will need to transfer to another team if he wants to compete there in the future.
“I would love to go back to the Tour at some point,” he told BBC 5 Live, having confirmed to the programme that he has been passed over for selection for this year’s race. “So there is the chance I would go back to the Tour next year.
“I think having missed it this year on the form I am in at the moment, the likelihood is I will probably miss out again next year. So if I want to go back to the Tour, I might have to start accepting the reality that I will have to change teams.”
Wiggins has been linked to a possible move to Orica GreenEdge, with sporting director Matt White confirming to the Sydney Morning Herald that he would ‘love to work’ with Wiggins and that he considered him a rider who could fit into the team.
This was played down in recent days by the team’s general manager Shayne Bannan, who said that White’s comments did not mean that a deal had been done, or even that negotiations have been started.
“All I can comment is that I read the article,” he told CyclingTips. “It was really just a question, with a lot of ifs in there. I can confirm that we have not spoken to Brad Wiggins.”
However Wiggins confirmed to L’Equipe that there had been some preliminary contact. “I have spoken with Orica-GreenEdge, with Matthew White, who was with me at Garmin. But it was just to speak about it, not serious negotiations.”
When Team Sky was being established Wiggins was central to the team’s goals. He had long been one of the top riders in British Cycling’s track programme, winning Olympic and world championship titles, and his fourth place in the 2009 Tour marked him out as a rider who could challenge for the overall.
He was contracted to continue with the Garmin-Sharp team in 2010 but he and Team Sky succeeded in forcing the American team to release him and he moved to the British squad. He went on to place third in the 2011 Vuelta a España and then to win the following year’s Tour de France plus the Olympic time trial title.
While Wiggins seemed on top of world cycling at that point, his position there didn’t last long. He said in the autumn of 2012 that he would concentrate on the Giro d’Italia rather than the Tour de France the following year, with Chris Froome to instead lead the team in the French event.
Wiggins had a lacklustre Giro campaign, appearing below his 2012 form and also crashing. Visibly nervous on the wet descents, he withdrew from the race with injury and missed the 2013 Tour de France. He returned to win the Tour of Britain last September.
A top ten finish in Paris-Roubaix this year was followed by victory in the Tour of California, plus talk from Wiggins that he was back in the same sort of condition as in 2012. However previous difficulties with Chris Froome resurfaced when the latter released his autobiography, with excerpts talking about issues with Wiggins during that Tour.
Wiggins still hoped to be part of this year’s race, but confirmed to the BBC on Friday morning that this wouldn’t happen.
“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.”
In a separate interview to BBC television, Wiggins confirmed he was ‘gutted’ to miss the race. However both it and his 5 Live slots showed him in a diplomatic mood.
“We have had a number of conversations,” he said, speaking about Sky principal Dave Brailsford. “As I say, I understand the reasoning behind it.
“We have got one guy who is trying to win the race, and we have got a list of thirteen or fourteen riders who are capable of doing different jobs throughout the Tour to meet the demands of the race. There is a stage on the cobblestones this year and we have a number of guys who can do that. Obviously then the high mountains, which are the most important part of the Tour de France.
“There is only one time trial this year, right at the end of the race. We have got such strength in depth at Sky, the climbing group…
“Chris has had those guys around him for most of the year, going to different races and training camps. We have both been on different paths. I focussed on Paris-Roubaix at the start of the year and tried to branch out and do something different. I then went off to California and was fortunate enough to come back with the win there.”
Asked why Froome wouldn’t see him as a rider who was good to have by his side, Wiggins said that they had different programmes this year, with the older rider focussing on getting into strong shape for the Classics and the Tour of California.
“We haven’t raced all year due to our different commitments and stuff and that may have impacted a bit. When you in the heat of the moment and you are up them climbs, you need to have guys around you that you not only trust, but you know have been there all season and done that job for you.”
However, when pressed by the BBC about their past frictions and asked if their relationship was damaged beyond repair, he conceded this could be the case. He rationalised past tensions by saying that the intense period of nearly four weeks at the Tour causes strains between riders.
“You are in each others’ pockets, day in and day out. You go through so many different highs and lows. Tensions can rise, especially when you have two guys, two really competitive guys up there bidding for the win,” he said.
“It is such a stressful environment. Tensions are certainly going to arise in the Tour de France.”
Current UCI rules mean that contract negotiations can only take place during set times. There are also contracts on when completed deals can be announced.
As a result it may be several months before there is official confirmation of where Wiggins will go, and whether this will be Orica GreenEdge or another team. What seems almost certain, though, is that he won’t be a Team Sky rider after the end of this season.
He also confirmed today that missing this year’s Tour has prompted him to have a change of mind in relation to his future programme.
“I said at the start of this year that with my objectives now, looking ahead to Rio and going back to the track, this would probably be my last Tour de France, if preparations took over next year and the track became the priority.
“[However] Having missed the Tour again this year, I wouldn’t like to leave it there.”
Wiggins said that he has already put out feelers about a move elsewhere. “There has been quite a bit in the press the last week. Obviously I spoke to a few people, I have to explore my options,” he said.
“At this stage I have just been focussing so much on the training that you let the people dealing with the contracts deal with those.”