British Cycling Performance Director Dave Brailsford, also Team Principal at Team Sky, has said he believes it will be impossible for Bradley Wiggins or Mark Cavendish to target success in both the Tour de France and at the Olympic Games in London this summer, describing such ambitions as a “recipe for failure.” It's likely that Wiggins will concentrate on the overall in the Tour, while Cavendish's priority will be aiming to clinch gold in London.
Cavendish, aged 26, had said when he joined Team Sky that he hoped to defend his green jersey title in the Tour de France before attempting to clinch gold in the Olympic road race, which takes place the Saturday after the Tour finishes in Paris.
Wiggins, meanwhile – denied the chance to go for a third consecutive track gold in the individual pursuit after that was dropped from the track programme – planned to follow up an assault on the General Classification at the Tour with a tilt at the individual time trial in London.
"We've got four big goals in close proximity and they all revolve around Mark and Bradley," Brailsford told BBC Sport.
"So at this stage of the game you look at what their form is like and, like everything in life, you prioritise.
"I think just to say that you're going to give each one equal significance and try to win everything is probably the recipe for failure.
"What we really need to do is to look at them and say: 'If you could just have one, which one would you take?'
"You then build your chances around that. We're clear in our minds about our approach for this year and it will pan out as we get there."
Brailsford refused to be drawn on which event each rider would prioritise, but it is almost certain that Wiggins, who turns 32 next month, will target the Tour de France, having last year achieved his first Grand Tour podium place in the Vuelta and winning Paris-Nice earlier this month.
The absence of the banned Alberto Contador plus the fact that this year’s parcours includes more than 100km of individual time trialling have also underlined Wiggins’ credentials as one of the favourites for the 99th edition of the race.
Ever since Team Sky announced the arrival of Cavendish in October, concerns have been expressed that Wiggins’ aspirations of a podium place or even the overall title in the Tour are incompatible with Cavendish looking to repeat his points competition success from last summer; the last team to do so was Team Telekom in 1997 through Jan Ullrich and Erik Zabel.
With a tough Olympic road race in prospect in which Box Hill is tackled nine times, other nations will have plenty of opportunities to attack in an attempt to prevent the field from coming back together for a sprint finish on The Mall that Cavendish, if he were in the front group, would be favourite to win.
When Cavendish won the world championship in Copenhagen last September, he and his seven Great Britain team mates controlled the race expertly to set up the final sprint in which he beat Australia’s Matt Goss to the rainbow jersey.
In London, however, Cavendish will have just four British riders with him, and Wiggins, who had done a massive turn on the front going into the final lap in Copenhagen, said earlier this year that he did not envisage playing a significant role in the race with the individual time trial looming four days later.
By forcing the riders, in effect, to prioritise between one or other event, Brailsford is also potentially defusing a repeat of what happened at Beijing in 2008 when Cavendish and Wiggins were reported to have fallen out after a disappointing performance in the Madison.
That left Cavendish as the only British track cyclist to return home from those Olympics without a medal of any description, while Wiggins had previously claimed gold in the individual and team pursuits; by directing Team Sky’s efforts towards Wiggins’ overall challenge in the Tour, and targeting the road race rather than the time trial in the Olympics, there’s therefore an element of quid pro quo as far as the riders are concerned.
Speaking about the Tour de France, which gets under way with a Prologue in Liege on 30 June, Brailsford said: "We have known for some time that Bradley is an exceptional rider.
"He is building experience and belief and the performances are coming with that.
"We've come into the season with a clear game plan for Bradley and he's delivered every time. If you look at his record over the last year, it's pretty spectacular.
"So he's on track and there's more to come. We can look forward to July with real excitement."
Cavendish has taken four victories so far during 2012, but Brailsford admitted that Team Sky was still trying to identify what lay behind his problems in Milan-San Remo last weekend.
The Manxman, winner of the race in 2009, was dropped from the main group on the climb to Le Manie with 95 kilometres still to ride and eventually abandoned ahead of the Poggio 10 kilometres from the finish.
"That performance was a bit of a surprise and we don't often have surprises, particularly from Mark," Brailsford explained.
"He's a great champion and has got so much class but it didn't work out for him at the weekend and that's uncharacteristic.
"We're looking at all the numbers to see if we can put our finger on it. It could be illness, it could be latent fatigue. There are a whole host of things it could be.
"But you have to take your hat off to Mark Cavendish for all that he's achieved. If anyone has earned the right to a bad day it's him."
Prior to Milan-San Remo, Cavendish’s race coach Rod Ellingworth said that the rider, who has completed the Tour de France three times and has never been beaten on the final day’s sprint finish on the Champs-Elysées, was not certain to finish this year’s race ahead of the build-up to the Olympics, and that his main priority at the Tour would be stage wins rather than the green jersey.
Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.