Bradley Wiggins reflects on a stellar 2009 and his plans for ’10

If Bradley Wiggins is going to ride for Team Sky in 2010, you won’t hear it from him. The British rider is midway through a two-year deal with Garmin-Slipstream but has been heavily linked to the new ProTour team —an organization born with the mission statement of producing a British Tour de France winner in the next five years.

By Neal Rogers

Bradley Wiggins collected a nifty trophy for winning the Jayco Herald Sun Tour — but he has his eyes on another prize in 2010.

Photo: Neal Rogers

If Bradley Wiggins is going to ride for Team Sky in 2010, you won’t hear it from him.

The British rider is midway through a two-year deal with Garmin-Slipstream but has been heavily linked to the new ProTour team —an organization born with the mission statement of producing a British Tour de France winner in the next five years.

Since its inception this summer, with an estimated 25 million-plus pounds of backing from British Sky Broadcasting, Team Sky has expressed heavy interest in Wiggins, who saw his stock rise considerably after a surprising fourth-place overall finish at the Tour.

Wiggins in turn has expressed interest in Sky. However, his contract with Garmin, rumored to be around $300,000, does not contain a buyout clause, meaning that if team manager Jonathan Vaughters were to allow Wiggins to leave, Vaughters would be able to name the price. Without citing sources, a pair of British papers reported last month that the figure being discussed was 2 million pounds.

Wiggins has never said that he will ride for Sky in 2010, at one point describing the rumors as “bollocks,” and Vaughters has repeatedly denied it. There has been speculation, however, that should Astana lose its ProTour license, Alberto Contador would be free to ride for another team, and Vaughters could cash in on Sky’s offer for Wiggins to bring the Tour champ to Garmin.

While the rumors have run rife, Wiggins continued racing. After leaving the Champs-Élysées in July, he raced the Tour of Benelux, in support of sprinter Tyler Farrar, and the Tour of Britain, in support of sprinter Chris Sutton. He won a national time trial championship and was a medal favorite at the world time trial championship, where he infamously chucked his bike after a mechanical took him out of contention for bronze. He then took two weeks off the bike following the worlds before heading to Australia for the Jayco Herald Sun Tour, which he won on Saturday in Melbourne on the merit of his dominating time-trial stage victory.

During the Sun Tour a TV reporter asked Wiggins about Sky and his 2010 plans, and his frustration with the recurring question was evident as he answered: “I’ve still got a contract with Sky for about another year. The wife wants the movie package, and I’ve just got the sports package at the moment. We’ll see. The kids like all the cartoons like Disney Channel and all that, so we’ll probably keep it for another year.”

Wiggins sat down with VeloNews managing editor Neal Rogers on the eve of his first career stage-race victory to discuss his whirlwind 2009 season, his relationship with the media, and how he anticipates his 2010 season will unfold — regardless of which team he’s riding for.

VeloNews: You’re essentially the subject of a bidding war. What’s it feel like to have a team offer to buy out your contract? It’s as though you’re the pretty woman with two rich suitors both trying to win her hand.

Bradley Wiggins: I never expected to be in this position. Obviously the Tour changed everything, really. It’s just timing, more than anything, with Sky coming off the ground and me getting fourth in the Tour. It all tied in.

VN: The media have jumped all over it, particularly with the potential scenario of Alberto Contador going to Garmin. I noticed as the Tour went on and you moved up the classification, that you don’t seem to like dealing with the media. I’ve noticed here in Australia as well.

BW: No, not so much. I don’t mind some of you. It’s just that general media scrum. I’m better one-to-one, in this sort of environment. It gives me time to think of what to say. Those media scrums, like at the Tour, I’m not really super comfortable with them. A lot of them I find the same questions, or someone is trying to get a different angle on something someone else hasn’t decided to ask. And you always get the other assholes, like the French journos invariably asking you about drugs, or Lance (Armstrong), they’re always difficult questions to answer.

VN: There’s no other sport where the press can get into an athlete’s face so quickly after an all-out effort.

BW: I always struggle with that, actually, because I never know what to say. You always look back and think, shit, I wish I hadn’t said that, or you’re in the heat of the moment. I remember sitting on the floor atop of Verbier at the Tour this year, surrounded by people, not really knowing what to say. I found myself saying the same things I’d said three days before when people asked me what I thought about the next stage, or what I thought about Lance, or whatever. I guess that’s cycling. I think one of the beauties of cycling is that we are so accessible as athletes, at the start each day and things like that.

VN: I know you’ve been popular in Great Britain for years now for winning Olympic pursuit gold medals, but your Tour performance has made you a truly international cycling star. Is dealing with the increase in media interest something you’ve been able to reconcile?

BW: It was pretty big after the Olympics and that, but the Tour has taken it to a new level. I think because of the individuality of the Tour as well, your performances are more seen as your own, whereas at the Olympics so many (British riders) won gold, so we were all together. You’re on your own on the Ventoux, and people are watching you for an hour climbing this hill. They build relationships with you almost, over the telly, through the three weeks of suffering, and the emotions of it. I think Lance’s comeback contributed as well. More people watched it, there was more publicity to the race, especially in the UK, because they love him, and obviously me going toe to toe with him, people were just bowled over by it. It was good for those reasons as well, and the Tour has taken being recognized in England to another level. The Tour of Britain this year was phenomenal, the support was amazing.

VN: Were you able to have fun at the Tour, given the stresses of the race and the pressure from the media?

BW: Oh, yeah, we laughed ourselves into hysterics, with Christian (Vande Velde) and Dave (Millar) and DZ Nuts (Dave Zabriskie). It was such a pleasure being with all those guys. Even after the disappointment of the team time trial, we were in hysterics at the dinner table looking at pictures of our faces coming across the line. That was one of the most memorable things about the Tour this year, the camaraderie between the nine riders. It was all summed up in Paris, really. I’ve got my jersey all framed at home, signed by the nine of us, all on the Champs-Élysées. It was amazing. It really is the best team I’ve ever been involved in.

VN: Now you’re being asked about Sky over and over, and it almost is being discussed as though it’s a done deal, even though your answer hasn’t changed.

BW: Yeah, and sometimes (journalists) know more than you do, or they break a story, or something is taken out of context. … It’s a shame, really, because I’ve had such a good time at Garmin. It’s the best team I’ve ever ridden for to date. The group of guys, the riders, the staff, it’s been such a good year, and it’s such a big part of why I’ve ridden so well. It’s totally different than at Columbia, which was kind of led by the crack of the whip, which wasn’t necessarily bad, but it was something I didn’t respond well to.

VN: Have you had a chance to look at the 2010 Tour route since the announcement last week?

BW: Not yet, no. Being over here, everything has been a little delayed. I haven’t been on the Internet or anything, just heard bits and bobs from people about what’s in store next year.

VN: You told VeloNews 11 months ago that you were keen on the cobbled classics, and this year you won the time trial stage of Three Days of De Panne a week before finishing in the top 25 at Gent-Wevelgem and Paris-Roubaix riding in support of Martijn Maaskant. It seems as though after dominating on the velodrome, you’re still discovering your abilities on the road.

BW: Yeah. I did everything from Qatar to Paris-Nice to De Panne, Gent-Wevelgem, Roubaix, Giro d’Italia. … I kind of did everything this year. After I went top 25 at Gent-Wevelgem and Roubaix, I thought okay, next year, I’m going to try to go top 10 at Roubaix, or come into the velodrome in a big group. Then obviously I went to the Giro and did all right there, and then I went to the Tour. … there’s only so much you can do, really. Having done what I did at the Tour, you realize that’s the place to be. The Tour is an amazing thing, and to do well at it is amazing. Without a doubt, now there’s only sort of one race I have to try and concentrate on, really.

VN: So how will that affect your 2010 schedule? It seems like whatever you did in 2009, it worked.

BW: Yeah, I haven’t really looked at it yet. I rode fourth place this year having done everything. I’ll probably change it a little bit, but not too much. I don’t think I need to go into this traditional thing, not doing any racing and just preparing like Lance did in his best years, when you only do 20 days of racing. I enjoy racing as well, that’s one of the reasons I’m still racing now, at the end of the year. It probably won’t change too much. I’ll still do a fair bit of racing before the Tour, maybe even still do the Giro d’Italia again. That’s such a relaxed race. Not being an Italian rider, you can pick and choose your days where you race, and go gruppetto the rest of the week. I really enjoyed that this year.

VN: What was your best day on the bike in 2009?

BW: Verbier, in the Tour de France. I just felt so comfortable all day, even on the climb.

VN: This may be a question you’ve been answered a hundred times, but I honestly don’t know the answer. What happened with your mechanical at the world championships? It looked like a chain problem, but you never stopped moving and you reached down with your left hand to correct something before you got off and chucked the bike.

BW: I dropped down into the small chainring, and it threw right off the chainring and on to the inside of the frame, and then got caught up between the chainring and the frame. And our back brake is down there behind the frame. So as I backpedaled to get the chain out of the frame, it moved the brake across onto the wheel. And then I stopped pedaling and undid the release on the brake, to see if that would relieve it. But it didn’t, it was still rubbing. That’s the way it goes. One bit of bad luck in the season. I was pretty fortunate this year. I came though the whole Giro without any problems, the whole Tour de France without any problems. It would have been worse to have something like that happen on Ventoux after three weeks racing.

VN: And then you took two weeks off the bike between worlds and the Herald Sun Tour?

BW: Yeah, 14 days off. We had Dave Millar’s wedding, and I went to an Ian Brown gig, the former lead singer of The Stone Roses, backstage with him and all that. Two weeks off the bike, then came here and did two days training in Melbourne before the race started. The first few days were a bit stiff, really. I had visions of getting dropped in that first crit, I was a bit worried. But the fitness doesn’t really go anywhere and the legs soon came around, and I feel great now at the end of the race.

VN: And that’s it — season is over. What will your off-season will be like?

BW: Just spending time with the family, really, the kids and that, just simple things like taking them to school in the morning, picking them up. I’ve got a couple of gigs lined up, checking out a few small bands in London that no one really knows about. Maybe take some time to almost kind of reminisce a bit over the season. I still don’t think it’s fully sunk in yet. I haven’t seen any of the stages yet, I haven’t watched the race. It will be nice to look over a bit of that. It’s been a year (since a full-length interview with VeloNews, at Garmin’s November 2008 team camp in Boulder, Colorado) and I remember at the time wanting to see what I could do as a road rider, and I remember saying I’d love to come on to the Champs-Élysées with Christian (Vande Velde) in yellow, helping him, because we really thought he could win the Tour. But yet the roles were reversed, and it was me. I never would have imagined that at that time, that I’d be fourth at the Tour.

VN: I think that is why people are excited about you as a rider. You conquered the pursuit, and now you’re one of the best stage racers in the world as well as one hell of a lead-out man for guys like Tyler Farrar and Chris Sutton. It seems as though you can do anything you set out to. That’s almost scary.

BW: Yeah, (for 2010) it’s just simple things, like targeting the Tour for a start, whereas this year I was trying to be good all through the year. I think I could be better prepared for the Tour. Or actually looking at the Tour route — this will be the first time I’ve ever looked at the Tour route and actually gone and looked at some of the climbs beforehand. When we got to Monaco this year I knew that Andorra was the first mountain stage, and that Ventoux was the penultimate day, but the other mountain stages I really hadn’t looked at until we got to those days. It wasn’t until the first week of the Tour, after we’d gotten through the Pyrénées, that I actually flipped through the race book and looked at the Alps, because now I’ve got a chance at actually doing something. But when you think about that, you think, well why change a lot? You don’t want to get overly stressed, and over thinking it. You don’t want to complicate things too much. Eight months out, why do you need to look at the route? There will be a few changes, but nothing too drastic. That will be the main thing when I actually look at it and start planning for next year. I did something right this year, so it’s looking at that, really.