And so it begins again.
A restart of the Froome-Wiggins controversy that the media has fanned but as the cliche goes, where there’s smoke, there’s generally fire. Any journalist would tell you, fire is the top story — it’s bright, dramatic and burns people.
The inflammatory question — will Wiggins make the Sky Tour de France roster and ride for previously disliked Chris Froome or not?
“Bradley Wiggins’ role in the Tour de France is a decision the team needs to come to,” said Froome last week. “Bradley has been talking about a supporting role. It is a hot topic who is going to be in the final nine selected.”
Hot topic is an understatement.
The ambitious Froome has a quandary: He might need Wiggins’ strength to help him win a second Tour de France against a rejuvenated Alberto Contador and a committed Vincenzo Nibali but he doesn’t much care for the personality traits that come with the extra wattage.
Their mutual dislike began on stage 11 of the 2012 Tour de France that Wiggins won despite a momentary attack from Froome that was either unintended, accidental, foolish or simply a bit of frustration from a rider who knew he was stronger on the climbs than his captain.
From that moment on, the narrative is well-marked. Wiggins penned his autobiography and castigated Froome and also withheld Froome’s share of the Tour prize money for 14 months.
In return, Froome worked even harder and took over as Sky’s top GC rider, a guy who was less emotionally volatile, quicker to praise teammates, easier in general to ride for. In fact, over time, it came out that the boys in Sky preferred to ride for Froome than the moody, reclusive Wiggins.
Then came the publicized makeup at this years’ training camp. According to team boss David Brailsford, the two men hashed out their differences and agreed to put past grievances behind them.
The argument put forth by Brailsford is that the two men could now co-exist if for no other reason than that they were “professionals.” This always struck Twisted Spoke as an optimistic belief that even a well-paid Sky psychologist would have laughed at.
As anyone who has ever worked in a corporate environment knows, yes, you don’t have to like somebody to deliver a successful project but it’s hardly an ideal arrangement. Things quickly become a crisis when the situation is high pressure and stress-heavy — read the Tour de France, a physical and mental torture-test that cracks all but the toughest. In that environment, teams have to be tight, cohesive and supportive of each other at all times.
That’s what makes the timing of Froome’s book release rather curious. With Wiggins’ participation in the Tour up for debate and the start in Yorkshire, England just over a month way, Froome’s book can’t help but re-ignite a story Sky management wishes would go away. It puts more pressure on Wiggins and Sky and you can almost read it as a warning — do not screw with me.
Froome said he simply wanted to give his side of events and and what’s past is past. Fair enough but that won’t change those attention-getting quotes from hitting the media. Things like calling Wiggins “arrogant,” and hiding behind a “gruff geezer cloak,” and claiming that the rest of Sky “rode around him and his moods like he was a traffic island.”
Why not release the book right after the Tour de France?
It’s worth nothing that while Sky keeps its core Tour squad training and racing together as they prepare for the Tour, Wiggins himself hasn’t raced with Froome since last September. Given the upcoming race calendar, they won’t ride together until July — if Wiggins makes the trip at all.
Froome defends his title in the Criterium du Dauphine from June 8th-15th while Wiggins heads in another direction, the Tour de Suisse, from June 14th to the 22th. According to a story on the SBS website today, Froome’s Dauphone roster is Richie Porte, Vasil Kiryienka, David Lopez, Mikel Nieve, Danny Pate, Geraint Thomas and Xabier Zandio — all serious contenders for France.
That leaves Wiggins with very little wiggle room when there are only one or two spots left. Brailsford plans to figure out the final squad for Le Tour after the results of those two races.
By all outward pronouncements, he isn’t getting a big Tour vote from the South African. When Wiggins won the Tour of California, there were no congratulatory messages from Froome and no tweets of approval. Froome is a team player — imagine how effusive he would have been if any other rider from Sky had won in California? — but his silence said plenty.
We haven’t read Froome’s book — it’s not quite out yet — but what we have learned from the serialized excerpts in The Times is that he doesn’t appreciate been messed with in terms of his Sky contract and team support. The back and forth negotiating with Brailsford provided a revealing glimpse of a man who knows his true value and isn’t afraid to fight for it.
Which brings us back to that book timing.
Given those pre-release nuggets concerning Froome’s thoughts on Wiggins and the behind-the-scenes negotiations over team roles and support, there’s an argument to be made that this book probably won’t help Wiggins’ case for making the Tour squad.
Intentional or not, those quotes call into question Wiggins’ suitability and compatibility for a back-up role. And really, Froome is too smart and message savvy to not understand the media impact. With Froome’s friend and loyal lieutenant Richie Porte back to full strength, this sure feels like a way of saying, thanks, I’m good with Richie, no need for Brad.
That’s just our interpretation based solely on the reported book excerpts and Froome’s comments over the past few weeks.
Froome hasn’t asked for Wiggins, he hasn’t congratulated him on California, he hasn’t raced with him, he doesn’t want the rivalry, the extra baggage, the media scrutiny, the lone wolf at the dinner table every night. He’s got enough work to beat Contador and Nibali — our guess is he doesn’t want any battles with Wiggins and doesn’t seem to trust him.
It’s going to be a difficult situation for Sky management. Wiggins has a lot of momentum behind a Tour invite: returning 2012 champion, Tour of California winner, Yorkshire, England start, perhaps his farewell Tour ride and a consistent promise to ride for Froome.
It would be fair to say that perhaps we’re over-thinking the Wiggins-Froome relationship. But there still seems to be enough evidence to show that Froome isn’t happy about the prospect of Wiggins on his team for France.
When we were at the Tour of California, we put that question to Sky’s David Brailsford. He preferred not to answer — who can blame him? — but when pressed he said “It’s not up to Chris Froome to pick the team, you know? We pick the team. For the moment we’ll look at this race and take what we learn from it. Chris is training in Tenerife and we’ll select the team when the times comes.”
A few weeks ago we’d have bet money on Wiggins making Sky’s Tour roster, but with Froome choosing to dredge up their rivalry just over four weeks before Yorkshire, we’re not so sure.