By Fred Dreier
Garmin-Transitions team captain David Millar pulled no punches on his friend and former teammate Bradley Wiggins, who announced on Thursday that he was leaving the American squad for Britain’s Team Sky.
“It’s a bit sad because we all really liked Wiggo, and I think he wasn’t quite as noble as he could have been in his departure,” Millar said. “He just kind of put his head in the sand and disappeared. And we felt like we’d put a lot of work and care into him.”
Millar addressed Wiggins’ departure at the Bowery Hotel in Manhattan’s Lower East Side alongside Garmin-Transitions teammates Tyler Farrar and Timmy Duggan, as well as team boss Jonathan Vaughters.
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“We feel like he’s jumped ship,” Millar added.
Wiggins, whose surprise fourth-place finish at the Tour de France marked one of Garmin’s top results from the 2010 season, announced on Thursday morning he was leaving for Team Sky. The heavily financed British squad, which is backed by Rupert Murdoch’s satellite cable company, bought out the final year of Wiggins’ two-year deal with the American team.
In a televised press conference from London, Wiggins outlined the reasons for his move.
“It has been an amazing year for me and my ride at the Tour has given me the drive to aim even higher,” Wiggins said. “I know I can continue to develop and Team Sky is the perfect place to make that happen.”
Speculation over Wiggins’ move to Team Sky began soon after the Tour de France and gained momentum during the autumn months. Vaughters and Wiggins denied the rumblings in September and October, but in November the American confirmed that his star rider had expressed interest in the British team.
Vaughters said he struggled to stay in contact with Wiggins during the period of speculation.
“The relationship erodes because you’re talking with lawyers and agents and intermediaries,” Vaughters said. “My relationship with Brad isn’t bad. It’s just not as close as it once was.”
Vaughters added he was saddened by Wiggins’ decision to depart, but said he harbored no feelings of resentment toward the British rider.
“I see it as a nationalistic move on his part — he wants to be part of the first UK ProTour team and I don’t particularly blame him for that,” Vaughters said. “On a personal level, it’s sad to see Brad leave.”
Vaughters would not disclose the amount Sky paid Garmin-Transitions for Wiggins. The American said the sport of cycling needs to address the legal loopholes that allowed Team Sky to simply buy Wiggins out of his contract. UCI rules forbid riders from walking away from an existing contract, however a team can buy another rider out of a contract if each team can reach an agreement.
That’s not the case in American baseball or basketball, where transfers and team changes are subject to pages of rules and regulations.
“Cycling is in need of a more defined transfer system. The governing body or the teams or riders needs to agree on a system where transfers are performed in a specific manner, and there is no way around that,” Vaughters said. “It’s a way to protect the riders and the team owners and sponsors.”
But Vaughters said he would never have forced Wiggins to ride for Garmin-Transitions had the Brit’s heart been completely set on riding for Team Sky.
“Someone should really want to be a part of what your organization is about,” Vaughters said. “The spirit and morals and whatever you bring to the sport. And if they don’t want to, there’s limited amounts of what you can do about that.”
Millar said it was that aspect of Wiggins’ departure that upset him.
“Bradley was a wonderful addition, and Jonathan had a huge amount of belief and faith and love for him,” Millar said. “I think Jonathan associated with him. For Jonathan I think it’s been a painful experience.”
Both Millar and Vaughters said Wiggins’ departure has helped the team focus its goals for 2010. Vaughters said American Christian Vande velde would step up as Garmin-Transitions’ undisputed leader for the Tour de France overall. Vande Velde finished fourth place at the 2008 Tour and rode to an impressive eighth place finish in 2009 after suffering a broken back at the Giro d’Italia in May.
Vaughters also said Wiggins’ departure has put more attention on the team’s sprinter, Tyler Farrar. The American Farrar had a breakthrough year in 2009, winning sprint stages at Tirreno-Adriatico, the Eneco Tour of Benelux and the Vattenfall Cyclassics. Vaughters hinted his team might put more emphasis on bringing Farrar to the line in first place.
Farrar said he welcomed the added pressure for 2010.
“We weren’t going to be able to put eight guys on the front last year to lead out the sprint,” Farrar said. “I hope that the team will put a big emphasis on sprinting. That’s up to the directors to say at the races.”
Farrar said he followed the drama surrounding Wiggins and Garmin through the fall, but eventually stopped reading.
“The drama continued on for three months,” Farrar said. “We all knew it was a possibility he was going to leave, so no one was shocked. It’s a pity, Brad’s a really good rider. But I don’t think it’s going to change all that much for the team.”