Team Sky’s Dave Brailsford has this evening confirmed that Bradley Wiggins broke his collarbone in a crash 40km from the finish of today’s Stage 7 of the Tour de France, won by Mark Cavendish of HTC-Highroad and, if rumours are to believed, Team Sky as of next season.
"Bradley has broken his left collar bone. It is hugely disappointing news for him, and for the team,” admitted Brailsford, Team Principal, who yesterday evening had been celebrating Edvald Boasson Hagen’s stage win in Lisieux, Team Sky’s first in the Tour de France.
After that victory, Brailsford insisted that Team Sky’s second Tour de France should be viewed as a success, whatever happened in the rest of the race, but with Geraint Thomas in the white jersey and lying seventh on GC, the filling of a Team Sky sandwich between Wiggins in sixth and Boasson Hagen in eighth, anything seemed possible.
“Bradley has been in the best shape of his life and worked exceptionally hard to be ready for this year's Tour de France,” reflected Brailsford. “We were in no doubt as to the form he was in,” he added, with Wiggins having won the overall in last months Criterium du Dauphiné and placing third in Paris-Nice earlier this season.
The 31-year-old had been a disappointing 24th overall in last year’s race following his surprise fourth place finish a year earlier while still with Garmin-Slipstream, but had come into his year’s race in better shape and looking more focused.
Further confirmation of his form came the weekend before the Tour’s Grand Depart in the Vendée, when he beat team-mate and defending champion Thomas, himself enjoying a great spell on the bike, in the National Road Championships near Newcastle.
It was the fact that he was wearing the white national champion’s jersey with its blue and red hoops that made Wiggins so readily identifiable among the group of riders taken out in the crash which happened as the road passed through some woods and apparently coincided with a headwind flipping into a tailwind.
His fate in this year’s Tour de France should have been determined, for better or worse, on the Tourmalet, the Galibier, the Alpe d’Huez or some other climb whose name resounds among cycling fans, not on a flat, straight stretch of local road somewhere in the middle of the country, far from the Alps or Pyrenees.
“Brad was climbing with the best climbers, time trialling with the best time triallers and once the race hit the mountains we were very confident that he was going to challenge for the overall,” Brailsford confirmed.
That was a view shared by a shocked Cavendish, who upon learning immediately after his victory today of the fate of the man he partnered to the World Championship in the Madison at Manchester in 2008, said: “I'm gutted for him, he was in the best form of his life. We could have brought home the green jersey and the yellow jersey."
Interviewed by ITV's Ned Boulting as he left hospital a philospohical Wiggins, clearly feeling the effects of painkillers - it's not every day you hear a pro cyclist declare "the drugs are great" on national TV - said that his first thought was to get back on his bike but it proved impossible.
"I couldn't get up off the floor for love nor money," he confessed. "That's bike racing, these stages are part of the Tour de France," he added . "That's the risk you take as bike riders - it's unfortunate but life goes on."
Besides the loss of Wiggins, this afternoon’s incident had a wider knock-on effect on Team Sky, who this morning were just 2 seconds behind Garmin-Cervelo at the top of the team classification. They now lie in 20th position.
Thomas and Boasson Hagen were among Wiggins’ team mates who sacrificed their own GC positions and, in the Welshman’s case, the best young rider’s white jersey, as they lost more than 3 minutes after waiting to see if their leader would rejoin the race – at one point, he seemed to be insisting to team staff and the race doctor that he would do so, before thinking better of it.
Brailsford insisted, however, that there is still plenty for Team Sky to ride for over the next fortnight, despite the absence of its leader.
“Our priority now as a team is to regroup and focus on the rest of this Tour,” he stated.
“We still have eight world class riders in the team and they will be back out tomorrow, on the front foot and looking for more stage victories. There is still a lot of racing to be done between here and Paris."
It’s too early to speculate on how this setback will affect Wiggins. By his own admission, he’s gone off the rails in the past when he’s had something to celebrate, or a reversal to get over.
But at the end of last season, he was subject to what he described as a “massive bollocking” from Brailsford after a disappointing first season with Team Sky.
Despite his renewed focus this year, fate has now conspired to ensure that another chance to make a big impact on the Tour de France has passed him by.
With qualification sessions for the Team Pursuit at London 2012 taking place just a fortnight after next year's Tour de France ends, one or other will need to be prioritised.
It's difficult to see Wiggins passing up the opportunity to win a fourth Olympic gold medal on home soil, patrticularly with he and Thomas featuring in the British quartet that won in Beijing.
That would leave the 2013 Tour de France as the next time he can target a high GC finish in the race, by which time he will be 33 years of age – the same age as Lance Armstrong was when he won his seventh and last title.
It’s a year younger than Cadel Evans is now - the BMC Racing rider, if he wins this year’s overall title, will be the oldest winner since Henri Pelissier in 1923.
Time, sadly, is not on Wiggins’ side.
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.