Wiggins to Sky announcement expected

New British ProTour team Sky is expected to announce the signing of its country’s star rider, Bradley Wiggins, at a press conference held Thursday in London.

New British ProTour team Sky is expected to announce the signing of its country’s star rider, Bradley Wiggins, at a press conference held Thursday in London, a source close to Wiggins’ current team told VeloNews Wednesday.

A three-time Olympic gold medalist who turned heads with a fourth-place finish at the 2009 Tour de France while riding for Garmin-Slipstream, Wiggins is expected to be the marquee GC rider most likely to strive for Sky’s stated goal of having a British rider win the Tour by 2013.

Thursday’s press conference, held by British Cycling Performance Director Dave Brailsford, is expected to confirm months of Garmin-to-Sky trade speculation, the source said. Wiggins and Garmin manager Jonathan Vaughters have repeatedly refuted the rumors, pointing to the fact that Wiggins was contracted with Garmin through 2010. Vaughters was not immediately available Wednesday to comment.

However there have also been lapses in that defense. In September Wiggins hinted at an eventual transfer, comparing contesting the Tour de France on a team like Garmin to a bigger-budget team like Sky, which is sponsored by British Sky Broadcasting, the United Kingdom’s largest pay-TV provider, which is largely owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation.

“It’s like trying to win the Champions League,” Wiggins said. “You need to be at Manchester United, but I’m playing at Wigan at the moment. I’ve had a good time at Garmin, but times have changed.”

Later that month Wiggins described rumors that he’d signed with Sky as “bollocks,” while Vaughters repeatedly denied that Sky had bought out Wiggins’ contract, telling VeloNews via email, “It’s just untrue. There is no agreement in existence like this.”

Without a buy-out clause in his contract, Wiggins’ future has rested in the hands of Garmin team management. Given Vaughters’ interest in signing Tour champion Alberto Contador — Garmin had custom clothing prepared in June and an additional sponsor on board should Astana have disintegrated prior to the Tour — insiders suggested that Vaughters was hoping to leverage a virtual trade, releasing Wiggins to Sky at a price that would enable Garmin to better afford the Spaniard. However as Contador’s 2010 fate appeared in lockstep with Astana, the possibility of the American team signing the Spaniard diminished.

At the Sun Tour in October, a 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. But I think TNT has a new package when you can get the movies, the sports channels and all the other stuff for like a combo value; it’s 49 quid a month. We’ll see. I don’t know. I’m thinking of changing my Garmin to Tom Tom as well.”

By November Vaughters finally conceded to BBC Sport that Wiggins had expressed a desire to ride for Sky. “I haven’t spoken to him recently, but I think he has a strong desire to be part of the first UK pro team,” Vaughters said. “I understand his desire, but I also have responsibilities to Garmin and the team’s sponsors.”

With The Times of London reporting that Wiggins’ offer from Sky was in excess of €1 million — roughly triple what he’d earned at Garmin — it’s fair to assume that a top-dollar buyout from Sky eventually benefited Vaughters’ responsibilities.