Bradley Wiggins is putting the final touches on his training this week in Mallorca, Spain, to be ready for the Tour de France. As the top pre-race favorite, he will lead Team Sky, whose confidence is boosted from a record-setting run through the early stage races.
In the build-up to the Tour de France, Wiggins did what only Eddy Merckx and Jacques Anquetil were capable of, winning both the Paris-Nice and Critérium du Dauphiné stages races in one year. However, he’s the only rider to have scored the triple that also includes Switzerland’s Tour de Romandie in May.
Teammates Danny Pate, Richie Porte and Kanstantsin Siutsou were at Wiggins’ side in all three races. Chris Froome, Michael Rogers, Christian Knees, Edvald Boasson Hagen and even Mark Cavendish also helped in the some of the campaigns. Each man is hoping now to make the selection as part of Sky’s nine-man team that will help Wiggins in the biggest race of them all, which departs Liège, Belgium, on June 30.
“I’ve said it a few times, but no matter how strong you are in these races you’re nothing without the team,” Wiggins said during the final race test in the Dauphiné. “They’ve showed in every race this year how strong they are and put me in this position where I can extend the race lead or secure it in the time trial. Without them I’d be nothing this year.”
Sky management will finalize Wiggins’ Tour team in the coming days in Mallorca. Team manager David Brailsford faces the well-publicized challenge of balancing the roster to help Wiggins in the mountains and Cavendish in the sprints. The Manxman has 20 stage wins already in the Tour and last year, won the green jersey for the first time. Wiggins placed fourth in 2009 and stands to become the first British winner if Sky gets the mix right. The Sky team is so loaded that with two goals in mind, riders like Cavendish’s roommate and longtime confidant, Bernhard Eisel, aren’t yet guaranteed a spot.
“Let’s just get to the Tour, get the job done,” Wiggins said of the team’s balance. “We’ll sit in Paris and decide if it worked or it didn’t work.”
Wiggins made a name for himself on the track, twice winning the individual pursuit at the Olympics, in 2004 and 2008. He left the Beijing Games in 2008 after a public falling out with Cavendish over a poor performance in the madison, however. His stage racing career only took off when he began to trim down and in 2009 placed fourth in the Tour for Garmin. That winter, he left the American squad with a year remaining on his contract and transferred to Great Britain’s new team. With Brailsford, he planned to win the race.
Wiggins’ debut year with Sky in 2010 was a disaster and last year, he broke his collarbone only seven days into the Tour. However, he rebounded. He placed third in the Vuelta a España, won silver in the world time trial championship and helped Cavendish to the gold in the road race. The experiences helped him learn and gain the confidence needed for the Paris-Nice/Romandie/Dauphiné triple and a possible Tour win.
“We are learning all of the time what’s working, what isn’t working,” Wiggins explained. “Like last year, when I crashed out of the Tour. In the past, maybe that would’ve been the end of me and I could’ve perhaps had the year off. But we fought through the Vuelta a España, to get all this information for this year. All those little things kind of contribute to the confidence.”
Instead of shutting down the year, Wiggins almost immediately said he would return for the Vuelta after his stage 7 crash at the Tour. He wore the leader’s jersey in Spain and only lost control of the GC on the ultra-steep Angliru climb during stage 15. Since that day, Wiggins has been on the tear that has included the 2011 worlds podium and his streak of stage-race wins this spring.
“I realize just how good this team is,” he said. “The way I’m looked at after the race, the way coaches look after me; everything is planned. Anything I need. It’s all for one cause.
“I’ll probably get slated for this, but it’s fair to say we are probably one of the most professional sporting teams in the world the way we do things. The way we do the training camps in the winter months, the way every rider is looked after by someone in the team and their training is meticulously monitored. Some of the teams I’ve been on in the past, no disrespect to them, but you could spend a month on the piss when you went home and they wouldn’t even know any different.”
Wiggins finishes the Mallorca camp this week and heads to Liège. There, he’ll prepare for the Tour’s prologue, and a run at an even more historic quadruple ahead of the London Olympics, likely his first away from the track.