Sir Bradley Wiggins has revealed that he has a new target for the 2014 season: the Paris-Roubaix race, considered the hardest and most prestigious of the one-day early season Spring Classics.
Speaking at Team Sky’s training camp in Majorca, Wiggins also expressed a desire to win the Tour of California, to help fill the “void” left in American cycling by the stripping of Lance Armstrong’s victories, and to return to the Tour de France this year alongside team-mate and reigning Tour champion Chris Froome.
The apparently bitter rivalry between Wiggins and Chris Froome came to an end at a three-day team-bonding session in Majorca last December, where the two Tour winners had the chance to talk about the previous year.
“It was the first time we really just sat down in a room and talked, which we hadn’t since the Tour of Oman last year,” he said. “I think that was a lesson for us all for this year, just spending more time together. Then things don’t get lost... you’re not reading about someone through the newspapers,” writes Tom Cary in the Telegraph
Looking forward to the Tour
It sounds like Team Sky has a simple plan for the Tour de France: Chris Froome as team leader, defending his title, and Wiggins as hugely experienced right hand man.
According to the Guardian’s Will Fothingham, Wiggins said: “I’m looking forward to going back to the Tour as an ex-winner, doing myself justice and the team justice, and being part of that. A lot of it was coming to terms with [the Tour win] – I left home as an unknown and five weeks later came back as one of the most famous people in the country. I’m not carrying the burden that I did carry for four years of ‘is he going to win the Tour?’
“We’re actually looking forward to racing together. It’s nice when it’s like that. I want to do the team proud and do myself proud.”
One area where Wiggins feels he can be especially useful is in defusing the “horrible atmosphere” that developed when Froome’s strong 2013 performance led some to suspect him of using performance-enhancing drugs.
“I kind of felt I won the public over, especially the French public, two years ago,” Wiggins said. “Part of that was because I spoke French. And I had a laugh with them. It’s like the film Gladiator, you win the public and you win your freedom. I kind of won my freedom. Whereas the opposite happened with Chris if you like. It would be nice to go back to the Tour and, if anything, just take the pressure off Chris a little bit. Take some of those questions for him. And challenge people for him.”
Team boss Sir Dave Brailsford said that the Wiggins-Froome rivalry was “no longer a story. Sorry but you’ve wrung that one dry. Chris is as committed to win this year as last year.
“Things happen, you see it with a lot of gold medallists, there’s a lull, which is a human phenomenon, but I think he’s managed it really well. We’re totally determined it won’t happen again. He’s had his time to go and do all his bits and bobs. He will go a bit more steady this time, [in 2013 he was] trying to earn the respect of his team-mates and one of the issues or challenges was to try and refine that.”
Froome and Wiggins are scheduled to race together for the first time this year at Tirreno-Adriatica in March. Their interaction will be closely watched for signs of a the return to the old rivalry or that the hatchet has truly been buried.
Paris-Roubaix: plugging a hole in Sky's record
Before the Tour de France, though, Wiggins’ early-season targets are Paris-Roubaix and the Tour of California.
Brailsford described the Spring Classics as a “gaping hole” in Sky’s palmares. Wiggins has been thinking about filling that hole since 2012.
Wiggins said: “Once the fighting is done in the early sectors, it’s about spending long periods of time on your own, which I’m good at. It gives me a different dimension.”
He doesn’t think that there’s much specific preparation he can do for Paris-Roubaix though. He said: “That’s one of the beauties of it – it’s sustained threshold, there is a lot of risk involved but other than the reconnaissance of the race, there is physically not much difference. I always remember the press cuttings from when I was a kid – Roubaix is always something and I’d love to win it, to be part of that final [shakedown], that final 40 or 50 kilometres, so many things come together to have to win that race, or play a part, even if it’s doing a job for Geraint Thomas or whatever.”
Brailsford rates Wiggins’ chances. He said: “Paris-Roubaix is a race he’s always liked since he was a youngster, he’s always been there in the background, he’s always felt he has got the physical attributes, so there is an opportunity. The Classics are a gaping hole in our palmares and we’d like to try and sort that out.”
Going to California, Beckham style
In May, Wiggins plans to swap the cobbles of Roubaix for the rather smoother Tarmac of California. He returned from a visit to Los Angeles feeling that the Lance Armstrong scandal has left a hole in American cycling.
“Cycling is huge there and there is a huge void there. People in the US are keen on cycling but have been robbed a little bit with what’s gone on. Then we will see where the future goes. As a Tour winner with credibility, with no skeletons in your closet, people look up to you and want to get on their bikes because of what you achieved one summer.
“That is quite rare, especially within cycling – there are not many of us Tour winners that haven’t got a history, three or four, part of a very small club, and it’s our responsiblity to preach that to the world.”
Asked if he wanted to do for cycling what David Beckham did for soccer in the US, Wiggins said: “I wouldn’t say that but who knows?”
Wiggins also revealed that the Lance Armstrong scandal led to his children being picked on. He said: “The Lance Armstrong thing in January... my kids started getting harassed at school. ‘Is your dad on drugs? He won the Tour. Is he the same as Lance Armstrong?’ My son getting bullied at school. I had to move my kids from that school and move them to another school.
“Horrendous stuff. Horrible. I felt responsible for that and it all added to my unhappiness at the time. But like I say a year on and it feels like a complete contrast. I feel much more comfortable in my own shoes now.”
And what of the future beyond 2014? Wiggins is in the last year of his contract with Sky and said he did not feel right signing a new deal until the season was underway. And any deal will have to take into account his hope to ride for Team GB on the track at the Rio Olympics.
“That was where it all started for me in Sydney ,” he said. “To finish there, and hopefully go out on a high, would be great.”
Our official grumpy Northerner, John has been riding bikes for over 30 years since discovering as an uncoordinated teen that a sport could be fun if it didn't require you to catch a ball or get in the way of a hulking prop forward.
Road touring was followed by mountain biking and a career racing in the mud that was as brief as it was unsuccessful.
Somewhere along the line came the discovery that he could string a few words together, followed by the even more remarkable discovery that people were mug enough to pay for this rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work. He's pretty certain he's worked for even more bike publications than Mat Brett.
The inevitable 30-something MAMIL transition saw him shift to skinny tyres and these days he lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.