Imagine this bizarre but possible Bradley Wiggins nightmare: Ian Stannard becomes … wait for it … Chris Froome.
A very specific version of Froome, the one from 2012, in France, July, La Toussuire, the climb where he drops his own team captain Wiggins much to the shock and displeasure of everyone at Sky.
Yes, that Froome.
The one that Wiggins refused to forgive (or pay a share of the Tour money). The one he tore apart in his autobiography, feuded with for two years, the man who betrayed him.
Big lug Ian Stannard doesn’t look remotely like the emaciated Froome but he’s ambitious and on form and said this week he’s love to win Paris-Roubaix.
So play this little scenario out – actually, you can imagine any number of crazy situations because it’s the Hell of the North. Chaos is the defining characteristic and tactics are as unpredictable as the brutal, uneven cobblestones themselves.
In any case, here’s Wiggo, in the final race of his storied career, riding the monument he’s chosen as his final objective, his swan song, his farewell, his salute to the rich cycling history he respects so much …
…and he’s having a bad moment, a puncture, a tumble, a mechanical, caught behind a crash. Nevertheless, he’s got the legs, feels great, knows he can be a factor, maybe even win, freakin’ Paris-Roubaix. And there’s Stannard, coming off an impressive win in Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, rolling strongly in the front group through Arenberg and now deep into the race and suddenly the move goes…
It’s Cancellara or Boonen or Sagan or whoever. It might very well be the move. In an instant, he needs to decide. Take his shot at the podium or wait for Wiggo.
He doesn’t look back for his captain. In the heat of battle, it’s instinct and ambition and he’s all in, 100% committed. Froome, Touissere, I can’t wait, I’m strong enough to win, deja vie all over again. I’ll worry about the consequences when I’m on the podium and David Brailsford is hugging me and anyway, Wiggo is done, retired, off the team bus.
That’s just the way things happen in the WorldTour. Tom Boonen has to be looking at his top lieutenant Niki Terpstra with just a little trepidation and concern. If he goes up the road, Tommeke might not see him again until the velodrome.
We suspect Wiggins will have a pointed conversation with Sky management a week before Paris-Roubaix to remind them, he’s captain and Stannard is not a Froome impersonator.