BRITISH Cycling head coach Shane Sutton believes that the loss of Sir Bradley Wiggins for the Tour de France will “massively” weaken the Team Sky squad but lift a weight off the shoulders of lead rider Chris Froome.
Defending Tour champion Wiggins withdrew on Friday from the line-up for this year’s race, which begins in four weeks’ time on 29 June, after a chest infection and a knee injury left him unable to train.
Britain’s first winner of cycling’s greatest race had been lined up for a support role by his team this year, with Froome the man Team Sky are looking to secure the yellow jersey.
Sutton, who stood down as head coach of Team Sky in January and now serves as a performance adviser to the squad, is tipping Wiggins to bounce back from the disappointment of being unable to compete but says his absence will be a major factor in the short term.
He said: “This is a great loss to Team Sky.
“They will have been weakened by the loss of Wiggins massively, whether he was there to win the Tour or play a support role as Froome did for him last year.
“Team Sky will be weakened but I’m sure Froomey will be breathing a lot easier. It takes away that threat of your team-mate actually beating you, and I think he’ll be really up for it now. Unfortunately, you’ve got two of the best bike riders in the world on the same team and Froomey will be thinking, ‘this is my opportunity, I need to seize it’, and I’m sure he’ll do well.
“Froome goes in as red-hot favourite to win the Tour and possibly the only guy that could have beaten him would have been Bradley.”
Sir Dave Brailsford, the Team Sky principal and British Cycling performance director, said he had no doubt Wiggins would put the setback behind him, and Sutton goes along with that verdict.
“It’s a tough period for him right now but I’m sure he’ll bounce back,” Sutton said. “It’s one of the toughest sports in the world and no doubt the toughest sporting event in the world and, if you’re not 100 per cent on your game, you’ve got to be honest with yourself and look in the mirror and make that decision.
“He’s done that and, to reiterate what Dave said last night, I’m pretty sure that Brad will bounce back.”
Sutton believes Wiggins should now target a rainbow jersey, on offer for winners at September’s World Championships in Tuscany.
He added: “There are other goals for him before the end of the season. One that he’s never achieved is the rainbow jersey in the individual time trial which he won so convincingly at the London Olympics and I’d like to think he’d put his mind to that possibly and go on to be world champion at the end of the year.”