Bradley Wiggins has claimed that he is increasingly confident he can win both the Giro d’Italia and the Tour de France this year, despite Team Sky having seemingly earmarked Chris Froome as team leader for this summer’s Tour.
Wiggins leaves for Italy on Wednesday ahead of the start of the Giro in Naples in Saturday, where he bids to become the first Briton to win the race, and departs having given his strongest indication yet he intends to try and follow his Italian exploits by mounting a defence of his yellow jersey in July - even if that means racing it out with team-mate Froome.
"I believe more than ever that I can win the Giro and the Tour this year," said Wiggins. Froome has repeatedly stated he expects to be Sky's leader in the Tour, and has done so with the support of Dave Brailsford, the team principal. But Wiggins will not surrender his jersey without making an attempt at a defence. He suggested Sky might let the two of them race through the Tour's opening stages and then decide who is better placed. Wiggins insisted he will respect team orders but is also insistent that if his form is better than Froome's then he should take the lead.
"We both want to win the Tour de France and we are both on different paths towards that," said Wiggins. "I imagine when we arrive in Corsica [where the Tour begins] Dave [Brailsford] will then have to make a decision about how we do this. In an ideal scenario we will both be in incredible condition and both be capable of winning the Tour de France. Then it all lies in Dave's hands as to say 'Right we are going to go with you Chris or we are going to go with you Brad or, you know what, in the first week we are going to go with the both of you and see what happens'.
"In an ideal scenario it will be with both of us that first week and let the racing take care of itself. It may be that Chris is in incredible form and they will say 'We are going to put everything with Chris', in which case as we have said all along then that's the way we go with it."
There have been mixed messages over the issue of who will lead the Tour since the start of this year. Just last week Froome said he was "100 per cent the leader."
"You wouldn't bet a lot of money against Chris not being the leader but we may run with both of us," said Wiggins. "It may be that Chris is the leader but that doesn't mean I am going to sit on the front for 200km and lose half-an-hour. I will want to finish second then like he did last year."
The relationship between the two is cool – and will be studied ever more intensely once they are reunited in the days ahead of the Tour. Froome is following the build-up to the race so successfully executed by Wiggins last year, while Wiggins has been focussing on preparing for the differing demands of the Giro.
"I would rather be on this team," said Wiggins when asked whether it would be better if they were riding for opposing outfits. "We both want to win the race and we are both incredibly competitive people and we both want to win. That's the main thing really."
But there remains a contradiction in how the two have outlined their expectations for the season over the last few months. According to Wiggins, building towards the double, last achieved by the discredited Italian Marco Pantani in 1998, has been the aim from the moment he sought to move on from his Tour and Olympic success of 2012.
"That's always what we set out to do from the start of the year," said Wiggins. "Whether I get the opportunity to do that as a leader of the Tour remains to be seen. But that's always been the goal. We sat down with Dave and Tim [Kerrison, his coach] and said let's try and do this. It is not a case of getting to the end of the Giro. This has always been about the next three months and trying to do these two big hurdles."
The first hurdle for Wiggins is the Giro and he believes he goes into the race as a "better rider" than he was last year after completing a revised training regime that has concentrated on improving his climbing. A win in the Giro would be his best yet, said Wiggins, who turned 33 on Sunday. "Without a doubt," he said.