Comment: Bradley Wiggins only has himself to blame for imminent Tour de France squad exclusion

Sir Bradley Wiggins, a four-time Olympic gold medallist and Tour de France winner, looks set to miss out on starting the 2014 edition of the race in Leeds next month – because he failed to choose his enemies wisely.

How things change as back in the summer of 2012, Wiggins appeared untouchable.

He was the heartbeat of British Cycling’s surge to the top of the sport, having become the first British rider in the history to win its most famous race, the Tour de France.

Only ten days later, he gave a further demonstration of his superiority over his rivals – including Team Sky colleague Chris Froome – by winning the Olympic time trial by 42 seconds, a huge margin in that particular discipline.

He also went on to win the BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year Award, which showed that the British public not only respected him for his achievements, but that they also loved him.

What we could not have foreseen at that time however, was that Wiggins’ subsequent form would nosedive, while Froome’s would only grow stronger.

The signs of that strength had been there in the 2012 Tour – notably on stage 17 to Peyragudes, where Froome had to drop back to help Wiggins as he struggled up the final climb.

But it did not seem as though Froome could lead a team as Wiggins had done.

As it was, Froome proved himself more than capable, winning the 2013 Tour by over four minutes.

And he did it without the support of Wiggins, who had injured himself in that year’s Giro d’Italia.

Froome’s chief lieutenant was the Australian Richie Porte, and there was no sign of the internal strife that had afflicted Team Sky the previous year.

It had been clear that Froome had been frustrated by having to wait for Wiggins on certain mountain stages in the 2012 race, and Wiggins felt his teammate was getting too big for his boots.

It later transpired that Wiggins had broken one of Team Sky’s golden rules according to David Walsh’s Inside Team Sky: ‘Any team bonuses from the team will be split between riders on that race’.

Wiggins paid his teammates the prize money won at the 2012 Tour. All of them, that is, except Froome.

According to Walsh’s book, it took all of the conciliatory powers of Team Sky godfather Sir Dave Brailsford to get Wiggins to pay up – 14 months late – but the damage had been done.

Wiggins had made himself an enemy, and for all Team Sky’s attempts to show their relationship as being patched up and harmonious, the trust was gone – and without trust, you have no team.

Wiggins has, to his credit, put his disastrous 2013 behind him, winning the Tour of California last month.

He told the BBC: “I feel I am in the form I was two years ago.”

Form, however, is secondary to team chemistry. Froome plainly feels Porte will serve his purposes better than Wiggins can.

And now that Froome is Team Sky’s undoubted leader, and the hot favourite to retain his Tour title, he can call the shots. 

Team Sky, too, could do without Froome-Wiggins friction at this year’s Tour, given the other problems they are currently having.

Their performance at this year’s Giro was, to put it mildly, underwhelming, and their rider Jonathan Tiernan-Locke awaits the results of an anti-doping hearing.

In addition, their former rider Michael Barry claimed the team rode on the painkiller Tramadol (not illegal, but frowned upon in the sport) – Team Sky denied Barry’s claims, but could do nothing about the negative headlines they created.

So it appears that Team Sky have put the team dynamic above keeping both Froome and Wiggins happy.

Wiggins, thanks to his errors of judgement in 2012, has frozen himself out of the team’s inner circle, and it looks increasingly likely that he will leave – possibly to join Australian team ORICA-GreenEDGE.

He may have more personality (and popular support) than the somewhat cold Froome, but personality does not win cycle races, and it can sometimes veer into arrogance.

Wiggins should have learned from the downfall of Lance Armstrong, but made the same mistake that the disgraced American rider did.

His ‘crime’ – disrespecting Froome – is nowhere close to Armstrong’s many offences, but there are some parallels between Wiggins’ ill-judged treatment of Froome and Armstrong’s alienation of key allies like Tyler Hamilton and Floyd Landis.

Cast aside by Armstrong, they came together to expose his doping secrets.

Now Wiggins has learned that making an enemy of Froome has cost him a place in Team Sky’s future.

Image via Marylene Evrard, with thanks

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