College Notebook Sport

Gaining the services of Bradley Wiggins is a tremendous coup for Team Sky

Dave Brailsford has acted shrewdly in bringing Olympic gold medalist and Tour de France tyro Bradley Wiggins to Team Sky, believes Jake Farrell

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"A Cyclist! Even cyclists hate f****** cyclists!" So says The Thick of It's Malcolm Tucker in response to Chris Boardman's name being mentioned in connection to a government campaign. Maybe he's right. Cycling's reputation has been dragged through mud so many times in recent years that the entire cycling community look as though they have been playing College Football at the 22 acres.

As riders are consistently exposed as drugs cheats at the highest level the fundamental validity of professional cyclists' achievements have been undermined. The lack of confidence and trust invested in the sport by the public would make MP's feel positively valued. Hopefully all that is about to change.

Yesterday, the recently formed Team Sky, led by British Cycling's legendary Performance Director Dave Brailsford, announced that they had signed Bradley Wiggins. Wiggins, who is also a gold winning Olympian on the track, burst onto the world road racing stage at last year's Tour de France, unexpectedly leaping from the peloton to match the world's best in the mountains and finish fourth overall.

Since then much anticipation has surrounded Brailsford's attempts to lure the darling of the British cycling world away from his American contract holders, Team Garmin Slipstream. With the addition of Wiggins it's clear that he wants a team which can challenge for the ultimate prize in cycling in France next year. Wiggins is now a serious contender. Last year he was hindered during the first week of the tour by his duty to Garmin team leader Christian Van de Velde, before the American graciously offered his services to a rapidly improving Wiggins. This year he can train as the undoubted focal point of his team, one that will be devoted to making his passage through the flat early stages easy, before turning him loose in the mountains. Wiggins also has important advantage of being a time trial rider of some repute, a factor which will help to seperate him from more mountain orientated rivals.

Saying that, Wiggins' attempt to scale the peak of his sport will not be without difficulty. Last year's Tour Winner Alberto Contador outclassed his competition in the most important stages, showing an acceleration and fluidity in the mountains that no one could answer. He will be back in 2010 with his Astana team mates and will not be keen to give up his title.

Cycling legend Lance Armstrong will also be certain to be in the mix and may have stolen a march on his former Astana team mate by taking the strongest members of his team to his newly formed Team Radio Shack. Armstrong, like Wiggins, will be free from the distractions of a leadership battle with Contador that dogged his campaign last year. The now 40 year old Texan, and seven times Tour winner, does not usually compete to come second and proved that he does not go to France for a holiday, finishing third last year. Wiggins will also have to contend with the dual power of Franck and Andy Schleck, the brothers from Luxembourg who echo the talents of the late Marco Pantani with their vicious accelerations in the mountains.

If Wiggins manages to surpass his illustrious rivals he could go along way to restoring cycling's standing as a sport. The British public have shown their willingness to get behind successful, and most importantly clean, cyclists by voting Chris Hoy as Sports Personality of the year for 2008. Wiggins is a formidable athlete who has consistently succeeded at the highest level, without the aid of the doping products that have become synonymous with cycling. Should he win next year's Tour de France he will rightly be acknowledged as one of Britain's greatest ever sportsmen.

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Andy McGrath Posted on Friday 11 Dec 2009

To jump right in, any savvy, switched-on/realitic cyclist fan/journo will tell you that Wiggins has a very small chance of winning next year's Tour let alone any Tour. Here's four good reasons alone: the parcours is much tougher and more mountan-based than the '09 route, Contador and Andy Schleck alone are still younger, lighter and in a league of their own, he's lost the surprise factor and Sky have a weaker support team than Garmin.

A few more things:
-Garmin offered just as much help to Wiggins as Vande Velde (that's the right spelling) in the first week in the Tour. His prologue performance meant he was a good shot for the yellow jersey right till the TTT. Wiggins never did domestique work for the American in the first week.

-Armstrong "free from the distractions"? No way. If anything, those "distractions" spurred him on. The Texan is the kind of man who frequently uses and has used anger and personal disputes to spur him on - even if he it had to be a tad fabricated, like with Ullrich and Pantani in the past. If you think I'm wrong, check the press; I think he's actually been quoted in saying the dispute with Contador motivated him.

Publicity-wise, it is particularly shrewd though. Brailsford is as ruthless as Wiggins when it comes to seeking victory, and signing an Olympic gold medallist as Tour leader guarantees column inches. Without this, it would have been a predominantly-foreign team with no big names maybe getting a man in the top 15 and a few stage wins along the way.

Unfortunately, the British public will only ever recognise Tour de France victory, which is why Mark Cavendish will never win SPOTY or even come close.

It's a cogent and well thought out article though, nice to see a cycling article in campus press!

Oh yeaa, another thing:
-Armstrong IS ruddy ancient, but not 40 for another year and a half.



Joseph McDermott Posted on Saturday 12 Dec 2009

Sorry Andy but i disagree with your last point. Cavendish should win the SPOTY at some point. He is by far the best sprinter in the world and i think its a safe bet he'll be looking for the green jersey at the next tour. Surely if he can win that (and by the margin he deserves) he should be a strong contender for the prize.

Also his passion, rash press statements and harmless xenophobia should endear him to the British public.


Jake Farrell Posted on Sunday 13 Dec 2009


I think that all of your points are highly informed and well argued but you seem to set out your opinions as though they are ultimate fact.

1]Firstly to say that Wiggins has "a very small chance" of winning the Tour does him a great disservice as a rider and also your claim that "any savvy, switched-on/realitic cyclist fan/journo" would agree with you is totally false. At no point do I suggest that Wiggins is a certainty to win the Tour and I would say that I am measured in evaluating his chances, as are the two pre eminent British cycling journalists quoted below:

"With him on the roster, they have an outstanding chance of earning that Tour place and if he's in the same form as he was in July, he should be trading blows with the best riders." David Walsh - The Times

William Fotheringhams article in The Guardian is tag lined - "Bradley Wiggins's signature gives the squad a real contender for the Tour de France podium"

in it he says "But with the addition of Wiggins, Team Sky look as if they can take on the Tour"

Also I think that Sky could be shaping up to have a very impressive support team. I am especially excited about Juan Antonio Flecha, Edvald Boasson Hagen and possibly Thomas Lovkvist.

2] To say that Wiggins "never" did domestique work for the American (whose name spelling you are quite write in pulling me up on) is not strictly true. Although Wiggins impressed on that week he was still duty bound to be there for his team leader rather than ride his own race. Obviously that all changed and Vande Velde was team leader in name only when they got to the mountains.

3] It is undoubted that Armstrong uses anger to his advantage but I simply cannot see how NOT being part of a team riddled by factions, in fighting and no clear leadership structure is going to hinder him. Armstrong is also on record as saying that he had no relationship with Contador at the end of the tour and that he had been ordered to ride defensively to facilitate the spaniard. Surely seeing Contador on the start line riding for another team will give him just as much motivation to beat him?

4] I do not feel that Schleck and Contador are un touchable. They were certainly leagues ahead of the field in 09 but I'm not sure this will be the case next year. Schleck is prone to silly errors on the flat and isn't a brilliant time trial rider. Similarly I think Contador is susceptible in the mountains when the battle isn't fought on his terms. Let him attack when he wants and there he is unbeatable, however Schleck had him wobbling on a number of occasions with his persistent vicious attacks.

regardless of our differences of opinions I think it is an exceptionally shrewd signing. It will gain interest but most importantly an invite to the Tour that would have been unlikely otherwise.

Lets hope Wiggins and Cavendish compete as brilliantly next year as this year.


Andy McGrath Posted on Sunday 13 Dec 2009

Joseph, I'm still convinced that unless it's an extremely fallow sporting year, nothing short of winning the Tour de France itself will win SPOTY. The 'green jersey' doesn't hold nearly as much clout for the general public as the maillot jaune.

1) Well, yes, obviously that is my opinion in the cold light of day, not fact. There's no disservice, and I'm not saying that he's NOT a top-five rider. But it's a big jump going from that to race winner. There's no way in hell my assertion is 'totally false'; for starter's, it's an opinion. And if I'm wrong, we'll know in July.

And I know this sounds arsey, but it's got to be said: I know for a fact (and if you're thinking 'how can he possibly know that for a fact?', please email me so I can set the record straight on how I know it for a fact) that my opinion is shared by a fair few eminent cycling journalists behind closed doors, even if some cycling media - Fothers and Walsh writing in big dailies - will obviously spin articles differently to big up Wiggo. That doesn't mean they personally think he will do well.

And by support team, I mean mountain help. Flecha is a Classics rider and attacker who can't climb, Hagen will be the sprinter so won't be up there in the mountains. Lovkvist and Froome could be the only ones up there. And neither Lovkvist or Froome have the pedigree of Vande Velde, who selflessly helped Wiggins in the Alps. But this is a mere quibble.

2) Well, I'm just going to repeat, and clarify more, the original point - he did not do domestique work for Vande Velde in the 2009 Tour. He didn't, he didn't, he didn't. He was not riding for his team leader after coming third in Monaco, he was their yellow jersey hope and was still protected as a top-ten rider until the Pyrenees, when his GC metamorphosis became apparent. You don't send a rider in the top 10 overall back to the car for bottles, it's a basic rule of the sport. Show me a photo of Wiggins passing bidons to his team-mate from the 09 Tour's first week. You can't, because it doesn't exist.

3) When did you see Armstrong ride defensively - when was he ever up there when it mattered? Some would even say he put the knife in, aggressively, on the road to La Grande-Motte. Do you honestly think a 38 year old out of cycling for three years was choosing to ride behind the favourites, busting a gut and sweating, because of team orders? Verbier showed him up and so did the queen stage of the Alps.

He's not as fast as Contador, Schleck - and I think Wiggins could beat him if he rides canny. Make no mistake, Armstrong made up for his deficiencies with great savviness this year, but I don't think he'll trouble Contador or Schleck.

4) I really feel differently here. They were the two outstanding climbers in last year's race, and could have put more time into the others - remember the ridiculous accelerations and hesitations on Ventoux? It's true that Schleck isn't a brilliant TT rider but he's the only man who showed he is on the same terms as Contador in the mountains.

Why do you think he's susceptible? There is no cast-iron evidence for Contador's susceptibility in the mountains of a Grand Tour. He has never had a big blow-up when in a position to win, he has barely looked fallible. Maybe you hope that he is susceptible?

We can spin the Armstrong thing another way too - how much better would Contador have done without the in-team faction?

I do feel quite differently - it's nice to see some debate, but I'm quite surprised at how much I do! - but it definitely bodes well for Sky's invite to the Tour.

Oh, Cavendish has got to get that green jersey next year. It's the next step.



Jake Farrell Posted on Monday 14 Dec 2009

It seems Andy that we simply have different opinions. I totally agree that Contador is the best Tour Rider for a very long time and will ultimatley be favourite, and in all likelihood GC winner. Also Schleck is the only person that can, on current evidence, come close to him in the mountains. However I do beleive, perhaps as you rightly suggest more in hope than expectation, that Wiggins has a chance. After seeing his emotional reactions and performances last year I feel that his innate winners mentality, shown on the track, and the help of Brailsford gives makes his a more formidable proposition next year. Last year if he hadn't been seriously hindered by a head wind that wasn't there for his rivals in the TT he may have been higher than fourth.

Also after looking back on my comment regarding his domestique work I admit I was incorrect to write that. However I do not suggest in my original article that he did the grunt domestique work that you accurately describe. I can only think that I used that word in response to your assertion that Wiggins "never did domestique work for the American in the first week" when in my article I only ever suggested that he was "duty bound" to his leader, in terms of Tour convention and etiquette.

With regard to Armstrong riding defensively I distinctly remember that during the first major mountain stage, the name of which escapes me, Contador made an unplanned acceleration in the last kilometre which Armstrong claimed he did not respond to as he had been ordered to ride defensively. Whether this would have made any difference is another matter I just felt that Armstrong's hands were tied throughout. I think it could be different with him as the focal point of a team full of high class riders. Maybe again this is wishful thinking; my earliest memories of cycling are of Armstrong in his pomp and I have been privileged enough to see him ride the Tour live. For me he is the greatest sportsman of all time and someone whom I have idolised; it could be fair to say that this affects my judgement of his chances.


Jake Farrell Posted on Monday 14 Dec 2009

Sorry Andy just realised that I didn't answer your point regarding the view of Wiggins in the media.

Firstly I wasn't suggesting that anyone who writes about cycling has said or thinks that Wiggins will definitely win the Tour, just as I wasn't suggesting in my article that he definitley will win the Tour. My article states that he has a chance. The second half, which is the bulk of my article, then goes on to outline the brilliance of his rivals and the difficulties he will face. The fact also remains Andy that you wrote:

"any savvy, switched-on/realitic cyclist fan/journo will tell you that Wiggins has a very small chance of winning next year's Tour let alone any Tour"

That does not appear to be an opinion to me although I may be mistaken.

I then provided two opinions from well thought of journalists for national papers that completely refutes this presented fact. I have no other information to go on, as you intimated you do. I have to take the opinions of journalists on face value and the opinions that I read suggested that there are in fact "switched-on/realitic cyclist fan/journo" 's out there, and I would include myself in two of those criteria, that do not think that wiggins has a "very small chance".

The rest of your commentary on my article has been exciting for me to read and it is clear that in most areas I would have to bow to your superior knowledge. However I found the way you totally discredited my opinion quite offensive, when in reality what I was suggesting, ie. that Bradley Wiggins has a chance of winning the Tour but it will be very difficult, wasn't exactly a sensationalist statement.