Cycling: Bradley Wiggins seeks record haul by pulling off the Italian job

On Saturday the Tour de France champion starts his quest to make history: to be the first Briton to win the Giro D'Italia and the first rider in 15 years to win the Double

Back in 2009 in the Giro d'Italia, somewhere in the middle of a mountain stage in the Dolomites, Sir Bradley Wiggins, then a lowly team worker, unexpectedly found himself in a small group of top contenders battling for the win. And the thought occurred, for the first time, that he could achieve something as a Grand Tour contender. And as we now know – after fourth in the 2009 Tour de France, third in the 2011 Vuelta a España, then first in the 2012 Tour de France – it turned out he could achieve quite a lot.

When the Giro d'Italia starts in Naples on Saturday, Wiggins will make his return to that race amid hugely different circumstances. For the first time in 26 years, since Robert Millar finished second in 1987, a Briton will be gunning for the overall classification of Italy's biggest stage race.

No Briton has won the Giro d'Italia, second only to the Tour de France in prestige and at least equally difficult in terms of length, distance and mountainous challenges. A top-three result would make Wiggins the first Briton to finish on the podium in all three major Tours, a huge achievement. Yet the question of why potentially risk the Tour for a seemingly lesser objective like the Giro cannot be ignored. The history of cycling is littered with riders who tried to do the Double – cycling shorthand for winning the Giro and Tour in the same year – and failed, and the last to succeed was Marco Pantani 15 years ago.

However, Sky Team Principal Sir Dave Brailsford believes that for Wiggins, having a new challenge like the Giro and keeping his star rider's interest at 100 per cent is what makes focusing on the Italian race so worthwhile.

"He is genuinely motivated for it and that is the key thing. Having had the year he had last year" – where Wiggins won every target he had set himself – "it was important for him to find something that allows him to get enthusiastic about this season."

There was never a risk of complacency after the Tour, Brailsford insists. "But it's a bit like Arsenal not losing for the whole season they had. And the first time they lost the next season, they were going to cop it.

"If you just go back and try and repeat the same thing when it's been nearly perfect" – as Wiggins's season was in 2012 – "it draws comparison. So why do that, why not take a different approach and he can keep a little more low key, as he has done up to the Giro?

"And given what he went through last year, for him to have got himself into the shape he has done now is pretty remarkable – given the amount of distractions and that his life has changed. His daily life isn't recognisable now compared to 2012. So factor in all that, and the time and commitment he has had to keep on training, is quite something. We think about the following season quite early, and the idea of the Giro developed after winning the Tour. We wanted to avoid this direct comparison and, on top of that, there's a little bit of a bigger gap between the Giro and the Tour – five weeks instead of four in 2012, so there's more time for a full recovery. But the most important thing is Bradley is genuinely passionate about the Giro. And that's always going to count the most."

You must also remember that Wiggins is a cycling history nut. Able to recall the team kit, shoes and helmets of riders going back into the 1980s and having watched and re-watched the Giro and Tour as a teenager, Wiggins told Velonews this spring that "The Tour, the Giro and Paris-Roubaix [are] the three biggest for me. They're the best races in the world." So for a fan like Wiggins to leave a mark on all three would bring a deep personal satisfaction and, given the Giro was the first Grand Tour he raced in 2003 and was also the first he finished in 2005, success there seems appropriate.

There is also the route. The race's structure – individual time-trial followed by two weeks containing the main mountain stages – is very similar to the 2012 Tour de France. Last July Wiggins took the lead early on, consolidated it in the time-trial at Besancon, then defended it right through to Paris. The one big difference is there is no long final time-trial, meaning he will have no insurance after the mountain stages.

"To envisage a similar scenario is jumping the gun," Brailsford warns, "particularly in a race as unpredictable as the Giro." But it is not impossible.

Wiggins will almost certainly avoid mention of becoming the first rider for 15 years to do the Double unless he has the pink leader's jersey safely in his grasp on the Giro's final day in Brescia. But it will be on his mind, not least because he would be following in the wheel tracks of his childhood racing hero, Miguel Indurain, who won both back in 1992 and 1993.

"He's in very good shape and we're going into the Giro with a lot of confidence," says Brailsford, who draws a parallel with Wiggins's form going into last year's Tour. "It's pretty close, there's certainly no reason why he won't be competitive."

Brailsford admits that the 55- kilometre time-trial on stage eight – Wiggins's strongest suit – is where the Briton will hope to make his impact.

"It doesn't take a genius to figure that one out," Brailsford explained. There are certain areas where you want to think about not losing any time and certain areas where you think this is my opportunity to gain time, and that'll be one of them."

But unlike the Tour, Brailsford warns that the Giro has its own particular difficulties. "You have to be vigilant, all day every day. The Giro is a race which lends itself a lot more to opportunist racing, with tight twisty finishes and so on. There's a lot more that can happen there.

"It's a race where on the least expected day something can happen," – as it did in 2010 when a break of 65 saw five overall contenders knocked out of the running, and Wiggins's team-mate, Richie Porte, a first-year professional, in the lead.

As Brailsford puts it: "It's a very different kettle of fish to the Tour de France. But that's a good thing, because if every Grand Tour was the same, it would be really boring."

Bluffer's guide to the Giro

How old is the Giro d'Italia?

It started in 1908, five years after the Tour de France.

Sir Paul Smith has designed a new race-leader's jersey. Why is it pink?

It is sponsored by La Gazzetta dello Sport, the Italian sports newspaper which has pink pages.

Which is harder, the Giro or the Tour de France?

Overall, if you factor in the mental stress and the physical difficulty, the Tour de France is the hardest, longest endurance event in the world. However, riders often say that physically the Giro is at least the Tour's equal: it lasts the same time (three weeks), covers the same distance (around 3,500km) and has two sets of equally tough mountains in the Dolomites and the Alps. This year, for the first time, the Giro tackles the Galibier, the toughest single Alpine climb, which is usually used in the Tour.

Who's taking part this year apart from Wiggins?

Big names include the 2011 Tour de France winner Cadel Evans, a Tour podium finisher in Vincenzo Nibali, and no less than four former Giro winners: Ryder Hesjedal, Stefano Garzelli, Ivan Basso and Michele Scarponi. Plus Mark Cavendish, already a winner of 10 Giro stages, and possibly David Millar, the last British Giro leader in 2011.

Who was the best British finisher?

Britain's one podium finish was for Robert Millar, who came second in 1987 when he also won the King of the Mountains title.

What is Wiggins's Giro track record?

He won the Giro prologue in 2010, when he finished 40th overall. Also took part in 2003 (he abandoned the race), 2005 (123rd), 2008 (134th) and 2009 (79th).

Is Chris Froome racing?

No. Wiggins is the sole leader there for Team Sky — unlike, probably, in the Tour de France.

Who has won the Giro and the Tour de France in the same year?

Fausto Coppi (It): 1949, 1952

Jacques Anquetil (Fr): 1964

Eddy Merckx (Bel): 1970, 1972, 1974

Bernard Hinault (Fr): 1982, 1985

Stephen Roche (Irl): 1987

Miguel Indurain (Sp): 1992, 1993

Marco Pantani (It): 1998

Alasdair Fotheringham

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Buttoned up: Ryan Reynolds with Helen Mirren in ‘Woman in Gold’
filmFor every box-office smash in his Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. Now he says it's time for a reboot
News
people
News
Actress Julianne Moore wins the Best Actress in a Leading Role Award for 'Still Alice' during the 87th Annual Academy Awards in Hollywood, California
people
Sport
Ross Barkley
footballPaul Scholes says it's time for the Everton playmaker to step up and seize the England No 10 shirt
News
'We will fix it': mice in the 1970s children’s programme Bagpuss
science
Life and Style
2 Karl Lagerfeld and Choupette
fashion
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Executive

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Retail Buyer / Ecommerce Buyer

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Working closely with the market...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - CAD Software Solutions Sales

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A reputable company, famed for ...

Ashdown Group: Client Accountant Team Manager - Reading

Negotiable: Ashdown Group: The Ashdown Group has been engaged by a highly resp...

War with Isis: Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria's capital

War with Isis

Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria
Scientists develop mechanical spring-loaded leg brace to improve walking

A spring in your step?

Scientists develop mechanical leg brace to help take a load off
Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock: How London shaped the director's art and obsessions

Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock

Ackroyd has devoted his literary career to chronicling the capital and its characters. He tells John Walsh why he chose the master of suspense as his latest subject
Ryan Reynolds interview: The actor is branching out with Nazi art-theft drama Woman in Gold

Ryan Reynolds branches out in Woman in Gold

For every box-office smash in Ryan Reynolds' Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. It's time for a rethink and a reboot, the actor tells James Mottram
Why Robin Williams safeguarded himself against a morbid trend in advertising

Stars safeguard against morbid advertising

As film-makers and advertisers make increasing posthumous use of celebrities' images, some stars are finding new ways of ensuring that they rest in peace
The UK horticulture industry is facing a skills crisis - but Great Dixter aims to change all that

UK horticulture industry facing skills crisis

Great Dixter manor house in East Sussex is encouraging people to work in the industry by offering three scholarships a year to students, as well as generous placements
Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head

Hack Circus: Technology, art and learning

Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head. Rhodri Marsden meets mistress of ceremonies Leila Johnston
Sevenoaks is split over much-delayed decision on controversial grammar school annexe

Sevenoaks split over grammar school annexe

If Weald of Kent Grammar School is given the go-ahead for an annexe in leafy Sevenoaks, it will be the first selective state school to open in 50 years
10 best compact cameras

A look through the lens: 10 best compact cameras

If your smartphone won’t quite cut it, it’s time to invest in a new portable gadget
Paul Scholes column: Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now

Paul Scholes column

Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now
Why Michael Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

Why Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

Manchester United's talented midfielder has played international football for almost 14 years yet, frustratingly, has won only 32 caps, says Sam Wallace
Tracey Neville: The netball coach who is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

Tracey Neville is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

The former player on how she is finding time to coach both Manchester Thunder in the Superleague and England in this year's World Cup
General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?