Sky is convening this week at Mallorca in its first major get-together ahead of the 2014 season.
After a few weeks of unplugging and relaxing, riders and staff are regrouping from around the world to the Mediterranean island this week to mark out plans for the season to come.
These are heady times for the U.K.-based team. Sky has emerged as the team of reference in the international peloton, winning back-to-back Tours de France with two different riders, a landmark that’s only been achieved a handful of times in cycling history.
The team’s major goals for 2014 are already well documented: Chris Froome will return to France with the goal of confirming his impressive victory this summer. Richie Porte, the plucky Tasmanian who enjoyed a breakout season in 2013, will be untethered for a run at the Giro d’Italia. The team’s spring classics squad will be back in the mix, looking to round out the team’s otherwise stellar palmares.
So where does that leave Bradley Wiggins?
Cycling’s lone “knight” looks to be the odd man out on the team that was initially built around his gifted but sometimes mercurial engine.
Sky has been evasive about what it plans to do with Wiggins next season.
In a handful of interviews over the past few months, there’s a sense among Sky’s brass that they don’t quite know what to do with the man who made history by winning Great Britain’s first yellow jersey in 2012.
As early as last July, team boss Dave Brailsford suggested Wiggins and Froome will line up together again for the Tour start in 2014, telling Owen Slot of The London Times, “They can definitely ride together again. On a personal level, I’d love to see them do the Tour together again next year.”
Talking to William Fotheringham at The Guardian last month, Sky coach Rod Ellingworth also stoked the flames that Wiggins and Froome could race side by side in the 2014 Tour, but added a heavy asterisk.
“It’s too early to say at the moment as we are in the middle of our review period, but we need to put the best nine best guys to the line,” Ellingworth said. “No one has a right of passage because of their past or because we like them.”
There seems to be little doubt about who the team’s outright leader will be. Froome will return as Sky’s No. 1 rider and the entire team will be at his disposal, with or without Wiggins.
Whether Wiggins returns to the Tour depends a lot on him.
First, he will have to mend fences with Froome. Then, as Ellingworth suggested, he will need the conditioning to prove he deserves a spot on the Tour Nine.
Wiggins, who turns 34 in April, has one more season on his current contract with Sky. It will be interesting to see what he decides to do with it.
So far, Wiggins hasn’t given much away. He’s hinted he might want to race Paris-Roubaix and take aim at the world time trial title in September. He’s already suggested that he will return with a return to his roots on the track with a quest for another Olympic gold medal in Rio de Janeiro in 2016.
So 2014 could well be Wiggins’ final full season dedicated to the road.
There will surely be some heart-to-heart conversations this week on Mallorca about what to do with Wiggins.
Brailsford has a soft spot for his mercurial star, as the pair dates back to Wiggins’ early days on the track, and the Sky principal will always remain Wiggins’ backer. Yet at the same time, Brailsford is smart enough to realize that it’s Froome who owns the future.
Wiggins will remain loyal to Brailsford and Sky, and if that means riding in support of Froome, that’s what he’ll do.
In a telling interview with The Times last summer, Wiggins said if he returns to the Tour, it would be as a “super domestique” to help Froome.
Of course, Wiggins on form still has a huge motor, and Brailsford will want to find a way to keep him motivated and ready for the Tour, especially if Froome has some bad luck.
It remains to be seen if Froome and Wiggins can bury the hatchet, however. There’s still plenty of bad blood between the pair, and Wiggins was still stirring the pot throughout the first half of the season about who would lead Sky for the 2013 Tour.
That eventually became a moot point when Wiggins fell ill and withdrew from the Giro and didn’t even line up to defend his yellow jersey in Corsica.
In David Walsh’s latest book, he revealed that Wiggins didn’t pay Froome his share of the 2012 winner’s bonus until the world championships this year in Florence, indicating that there remains some tension between the pair.
Despite a terribly inconsistent 2013 season, Wiggins remains a huge star in the United Kingdom. He salvaged his season by winning the Tour of Britain, a victory that made massive headlines across the U.K.
With the Tour de France starting on home roads, it will be hard to imagine that Sky will not be tempted to have both Wiggins and Froome at the start line in Yorkshire.
The seeds to a possible Froome-Wiggins détente are being planted this week on Mallorca.