The prediction game is a game we all love to play in that agonizing downtime before the races actually happen. And if you’re a cycling news website, then it’s a SEO mandatory when news is in short supply other than the photo displays of the new kits.
There is also the fact that in large part, no matter how expert, the educated guesses are mostly guesses hoping for a advantageous set of variables to come true.
Most predictions don’t even qualify as predictions: Tom Boonen will have a better season than last (duh, he was sick and injured the entire season), Chris Froome will win a second Tour de France (duh, he’s the best rider on the deepest team with the biggest budget.) Not much crystal ball work in those calls.
There is only one upcoming prediction that is of true interest in the sports comedy of pro cycling; the one question that’s fascinating on several sporting, personal and organizational levels. It’s a story rich with intrigue and spiced with so many details, anecdotes and suspicions that it’s like a killer bottle of wine: too irresistible to pass up.
But first, just to slow the headlong rush, let’s step back and look at the almost as fascinating stories — at least in the mind of Twisted Spoke. Can little Spaniard Joaquin Rodriguez win a grand tour? He’s come so so very close and only some bad luck and surprise attacks from señor Contador and a blindside dark horse name Ryder Hesjedal have prevented him from winning the monster prize. We’re pulling for J-Rod but odds are less than even he pulls off the job.
What will happen with Garmin’s twin pronged “youth movement” and “support our grand tour guys” plan? The old guard is gone and the mandate is to bring greater team support to Tour top ten Andrew Talansky and Liege Bastogne Liege winner Martin. We’re intrigued to see how that pans out. And we’re also curious how young guns Lachlan Morton and Rohan Dennis will do. It’s a team in transition so 2014 could be an amazing year or an rebuild year.
We’re also fascinated to discover how Allan Peiper’s tough guy routine will work at the under-achieving BMC squad. The big bucks, small results tag over the last few years cost team boss John Lelangue his job. By all accounts the smart and oh-so-modern Peiper is raising the bar and establishing accountability so that even the superstars like Evans and Gilbert better get their asses in gear. We expect a larger win total and a happy crew at BMC and watch out for Tejay Van Garderen at Le Grand Shingdig because in our view, he will take that next difficult step up.
The Andy Schleck saga continues to play out and there isn’t a singe person in pro cycling who could truly give you the the ultimate insight as to wether he will ever make a grand tour podium again. We like Andy, he’s a sweet guy and a genuine person but we’re not ready to boost him into the contender set again.
Twisted SPoke still remembers his “belly full of anger” quote when Contador dropped the Luxemburger when he dropped his chain. We wish his stomach was always gurgling with anger so that maybe we’d see ambition to match the natural talent. There’s hope but our sense is there’s still something missing. He simply doesn’t want it badly enough. Nevertheless, Andy Schleck is still a major story.
Twisted Spoke loves the classics, the monuments of the sport, but admits an age based bias for the grand tours. The story lines are wider and deeper and play out over a larger canvas. Therefore, our mind continues to buzz with confusion and excitement over the possibility that a strong and well-lead Astana squad lead by the immensely talented Vincenzo Nibali might stick it to Froome and Sky in the Tour. We awake in the middle of the night wondering how the Italian might become the master. Delicious and endlessly debatable theater.
Just in the general sense, we burn with anticipation to see what might unfold in Milan-San Remo and Flanders and Paris-Roubaix. Who ins’t in some form of rapture and blind, addictive joy just considering the odds and wildcards and what-if scenarios?. That’s all so good and will sustain us for several months.
But honestly, seriously, comically, existentially, the one most mind-bending question that bedevils us for 2014: Will Sir Bradley Wiggins ride in support of disliked (and once possibly disloyal) Chris Froome in the Tour de France?
Where do we begin to unravel this mess and who has the answer right now? We guarantee that mind map aficionado David Brailsford has no idea and neither does team psychologist Steve Peters — the man famous for his “inner chimp” analogies. The enigmatic Wiggins is a chimp that Peters couldn’t possibly fathom with several years of therapy.
We all know the backstory on the Wiggins-Froome bitterness but what gives the narrative critical mass for the future is that Sky’s 2013 Tour Sky has several significant days of weakness. If Froome himself hadn’t been so dominant, the jours sans at Sky might have doomed him.
The competitive situation for the 2014 Tour includes a desperately re-inspired Alberto Contador and a madly aggressive and confident Nibali with a stack and motivated Astana team. The same kind of weakness for Sky in 2014 could spell disaster.
That’s where the mutton-chopped former Tour winner and his relationship with his former climbing domestique becomes a possible win or lose proposition. There’s little question that a motivated Wiggins could be a massive plus for Froome but motivated is the key word. The guy refused to pay Froome his share of the Tour winnings for something like 14 months. Not the behavior of anyone with any intention of ever getting behind Froome in the team he used to boss.
There’s also the changing or should we say mystery role of Wiggins within Team Sky. Does he even care enough anymore to train for Le Tour? Is he winding his road career down for a return to the track? Will he join former Jam leader Paul Weller in some kind of musical venture. Nobody, not even Sir Brad, has the answer right now.
Our final bet is no. Wiggins won’t be anywhere near Froome or France in July.