Team Sky will be among the strongest teams to compete at the 2013 Tour de France, but last year’s champion, Sir Bradley Wiggins, is being left behind. His absence carries a host of implications within Team Sky, at the Tour itself, and potentially for all of cycling in Great Britain.
“It’s a huge disappointment not to make the Tour. I desperately wanted be there, for the team and for all the fans along the way – but it’s not going to happen,” said Wiggins.
It is impossible to forget the impact Wiggins has on cycling in Britain. In a two week span last summer, he rode his bike over the Champs-Élysées to become the first Briton to win the event in its 99-year history, and went on to win an Olympic gold medal in the men’s time trial on home soil.
Fans at the side of the road wore newspaper-printed cut-outs of Wiggins’ well known sideburns in a show of support.
When a cyclist was struck and killed by a bus during the Olympic Games, Wiggins was asked for an opinion.
The congratulations and status lavished upon Wiggins following his gold medal performance at the London 2012 Olympic Games just one week after his tour victory must have seemed unending. He was knighted, made a Member of the British Empire.
The attention was so overwhelming that later in the year, he cut back his sideburns in an effort to draw less attention in public.
He has no doubt inspired a whole generation of cyclists who are wishing desperately for sideburns they are too young to grow while pedaling furiously all over England’s roads.
The reason for the withdrawal is simple enough. Wiggins suffered a chest infection and tendonitis in his left knee while competing at the Giro d’Italia earlier this month. He struggled visibly during the race, unable to keep up on climbs and descents, and crashed on Stage 7. He eventually abandoned the race in an effort to recover in time for the Tour de France.
“With illness, injury and treatment Brad has gone past the point where he can be ready for the Tour de France. It’s a big loss but, given these circumstances, we won’t consider him for selection,” said team principal Sir Dave Brailsford. “It’s incredibly sad to have the reigning champion at Team Sky but not lining up at the Tour. But he’s a champion, a formidable athlete and will come back winning as he has before.”
The decision should help simplify things at Team Sky. Wiggins’ removal from the Tour de France roster should be the final nail in the coffin of discussions over who will lead Team Sky at the Tour. Skeptics abound online though, questioning whether the decision was really about injury and illness.
As recently as his retirement from the Giro, Wiggins floated the idea of leading the team at the Tour despite clear team direction otherwise. Froome issued a statement that he was indeed to lead the team in France. Brailsford confirmed Froome’s status shortly after.
“It is crucial there is clarity of purpose and for that reason we will go to the Tour with one leader,” said Brailsford, when discussing the leadership for this year’s Tour. “Taking that into consideration and given Chris’ step up in performances this year, our plan, as it has been since January is to have him lead the Tour de France team.”
was looking forward to wiggins and froome trying to hide 10-lbs of rivalry in a 5-lb bag. withdrawal will leave space for other storylines — John Leicester (@johnleicester) May 31, 2013
Wiggins’ desire to prove himself again could be forgiven, understood, and the subject of some sympathy.
But sympathetic notions hold no influence for Brailsford. Evidence, proof, and performance are what carry the day. And that logic helped determine Froome’s leadership and Wiggins’ removal from the Tour roster.
“This team has so many riders in great shape, ready for selection and we set incredible standards for performance which shouldn’t be compromised. We need to have the best chance to win,” said Wiggins.
The effect on this year’s Tour de France will be tangible, but not overwhelming. It isn’t the first time a champion has failed to start the next edition. A loss will certainly be felt throughout the fan base worldwide, but should be mitigated by the fact that Wiggins was never meant to ride for victory this year.
— Kevin Schummer (@kevinschummer) May 31, 2013
Wiggins and his fans will need to accept the turn of events. The Vuelta a España and the World Championships remain as targets this season.
Next to the biggest race in cycling, the Vuelta and World Championships don’t shine as brightly.