POPULAR belief has it that the seeds of enmity between Sir Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome were sown at the 2012 Tour de France, when Froome felt that he was held back in the mountains, where he was stronger than his Sky team-mate.
Wiggins won, Froome finished second. And, on the podium in Paris, Wiggins confirmed his new status as the mod-king of British cycling when he was handed the microphone for the traditional victory speech. “I’ll just draw the raffle numbers now,” hedeadpanned.
That might be the last we ever see of Wiggins at the Tour de France.
Yesterday, after a week of speculation about whether Sky could omit him from this year’s Tour team, he pressed the nuclear button, giving interviews to BBC television and radio – as well as an earlier one to L’Equipe, which appeared yesterday – in which he admitted: “As it stands, I won’t be there. The team is focused around Chris Froome, who has a great chance of winning his second Tour.”
The fact that the news was broken on the BBC, with Wiggins delivering his carefully-crafted script impeccably on the familiar red sofa of the Breakfast programme, will surely enrage the top brass at Sky.
As for the man in charge of his team, Sir Dave Brailsford, it will leave him hoping that nothinghappens to Froome at the Critérium du Dauphiné, which starts tomorrow.
Wiggins – often off-message in his media appearances, to the exasperation of his sponsors and amusement ofeveryone else – has never sounded so polished and on-message.
But the message was his. He appeared gracious and dignified, but the key line was: “As defending champion [Froome] has a say in who’s around him.”
In other words, Froome doesn’t want him, believing he doesn’t need Wiggins, can’t face three weeks on the road with him, negotiating “him and his moods like he was a traffic island”, as he wrote in his book.
Most importantly, Froome is not confident he can trust Wiggins to fully commit to helping him win.
The ill-feeling between the pair did not start at the Tour in 2012. In hisautobiography, published on Thursday, Froome discusses the 2011 Tour of Spain.
He began that race on his way out at Sky. His agent, pressing for a new deal, received a less than encouraging text from Brailsford on the eve of the race: “What’s Chris done? Nothing!” – though in fairness to Brailsford, this was true.
Froome and Wiggins shared a room at that race. Wiggins gave him thesilent treatment. There was “goodnight” and “morning”; but otherwise, writes Froome, “no hostility, just longmoments of silence”.
Froome was bothered by this. “It’sreally weird in the room with Brad,” he told team-mates. “If I say anything, he’ll just say ‘yeah’ or something in agreement, and that will be the end of it.”
Even when Froome went on toperform at a level few thought himcapable of, taking the race lead after the time trial, and then working for Wiggins regardless, he and his rival “never bridged that gulf of mannerly silence”.
To Froome, Wiggins was an enigma, an extremely gifted mimic, who can turn it on for an audience. “We love [Wiggins’] impressions,” Froome wrote, “but I think sometimes we all wish that Brad would give us more of an impression of himself. There is something else behind the impressions and the gruff geeezer cloak but we never get to see it.” If Froome sounds over-sensitive, it is worth recalling their respectivestatus at that 2011 Vuelta.
David Walsh, Froome’s ghostwriter, put it: “Froome is a footsoldier,Bradley is the star. It’s Private Froome and General Wiggins and Chris isdetermined to do whatever he can for Bradley. And Wiggins really doesn’t want to engage.”
Froome was second, Wiggins third, and Froome agreed a new Sky contract. He went from £81,000 a year to £2.68 million over three years.
He also felt he could have won had he not been required to work for Wiggins in the first half of the race. When a similar thing happened at the following year’s Tour, it was, for Froome, history repeating itself.
The problems were not resolved over the winter of 2012 but exacerbated when Wiggins held a celebratory “Yellow Ball” in London and didn’t invite Froome. Nor did he give him his share of prize money from the Tour.
In 2013, problems were avoided: Wiggins missed the Tour with a knee injury.
A few months later they weresupposed to patch things up at the world championships in Florence. The debt had been settled. Froome had won his Tour. But when Wiggins held out his hand, Froome wouldn’t take it.
The Tour’s loss will be the Commonwealth Games’ gain, with Wiggins likely to add track events to the time trial in Glasgow. But the Tour will certainly miss him, even if Froome will not.