So the duel is confirmed as being over before it even began. Rather than risk an all-out war for individual supremacy in the Tour de France in the years to come – and perhaps ride roughshod over team-mate Chris Froome’s aspirations – Sir Bradley Wiggins’ near-definitive decision to pull out of contention for road cycling’s biggest prize for the rest of his career effectively puts a permanent brake on all the potential infighting.
From a neutral, purely sporting point of view, for many fans, this is a shame. Had both Sky riders ended up on the start line a week on Saturday – something already ruled out by Wiggins’ injury – there could have been any number of outcomes, ranging from Sky taking the top two placings in the Tour for a second year in a row to a rival – such as five-times Grand Tour winner Alberto Contador – making the most of his enemy being divided and ruling in Paris. Whatever happened, it would have made for fascinating viewing.
But it would have been a murderously difficult situation for Sky to handle, and neither Froome nor Wiggins looked as if they particularly enjoyed the prospect of this power struggle. In fact, the duel was simply one thrust upon Froome and Wiggins by the contradictory nature of cycling as a sport – that it is a team game in which only one individual wins.
Wiggins’ abdication of power at the Tour ensures, among other things, that rather than perhaps feel tempted to tear up his contract for its final year, 2014, as was rumoured might happen, he can remain at Team Sky with his own goals.
His biggest immediate target, the World Time Trial Championships, has an impressive list of past winners. But to focus on such a late-season goal has its risks: should Wiggins fail, he will have to write off 2013 as the year when, after a faultless 2012, the roof fell in. And the pressure on him to perform in 2014 will be far greater.
The important thing, though, is that at 33 years of age, Wiggins has opted to continue and he can still count as a favourite for a huge number of races. With all the media focus on the Tour de France after Wiggins’ breakthrough victory last year, there is a huge risk other races become eclipsed; his presence alone will give them the kind of high profile they have never before enjoyed with the general British sports fan. The Londoner underlined that fact at the Giro d’Italia this May; and if he can do that again in the future, it will be a big part of his legacy.