There will be no sign of the defending champion when the Tour de France begins in Corsica a week today and neither will he be spotted at any stage from start to finish of the Tour’s 100th edition.
Instead Bradley Wiggins will be found either in Majorca or Lancashire, training for the Tour of Poland – with its finale through the streets of Krakow rather than the grand sweep of the Champs-Elysées – and pondering whether he will ever be seen again in the greatest race of them all.
Yesterday the first British winner of the Tour raised the prospect that he may not ride it again – now that he has achieved his ambition the drive to do it all over again has diminished. In its stead, suggested Wiggins, will come new dreams, new targets.
“For me it was always about winning the Tour,” he said. “I’ve done that. If I’m honest I don’t think I’m prepared to make those sacrifices again that I made last year, with my family and so on.”
He will return to the road late next month in the week-long Polish event as an initial step towards the first of those new goals – September’s World Championships in Florence, where Wiggins will compete in the time trial. It offers the chance to salvage a rainbow jersey from a season lost in the shadow of his golden 2012. But beyond that, what are his options?
Tour no more
Regardless of what his role would have been, Wiggins was devastated not to make the Tour this year and so it does not come as a huge surprise that he raised the prospect of never returning on the eve of the race.
With Chris Froome in the ascendancy at Sky and five years younger than the 33-year-old Wiggins, it is the Kenyan-born Briton who is earmarked to lead the team for the foreseeable future. There are other stars rising too: Richie Porte and two Britons, Geraint Thomas and Peter Kennaugh. It is a feature of Dave Brailsford’s management that he has never been afraid to move on. Whether Wiggins would be happy to take his place in the ranks (a proposed role he never appeared at ease with prior to his injury) remains open to doubt.
His suggested reasons for not doing the Tour again – in particular time away from his young family – would seem to rule out another crack at the Giro d’Italia as it is a comparable length and makes similar demands. It would leave the one-day Classics as the focus. The Paris-Roubaix is one such race Wiggins the cycling aficionado would like to add to an already decorated CV, while beyond that another Olympic time trial remains a possibility.
Seek a new path away from Sky
The relationship between Froome and Wiggins is at best chilly and it is reasonable to wonder whether there is a future for both within Sky’s ranks. They are the two best-paid men in the team. Froome is beginning negotiations for a new deal, while Wiggins has around 18 months left on his.
Earlier this year Brailsford discussed the balancing act between having star names and a roster with the depth to dominate Grand Tours and Classics. “We won’t be able to keep them all,” he said, adding, “it’s like stocks and shares, we’re growing the value of what we’ve got.” And, the implication goes, there comes a time to sell.
Though his mentor Shane Sutton is no longer on board, Wiggins remains at home within Sky’s highly-coached set-up; he has a close relationship with Tim Kerrison, who played a pivotal role in his Tour triumph.
Perform a U-turn?
The post-Olympic season is a mental minefield – how to move on from what in many cases will be the career high? Wiggins will never match 2012, the historic first of the Tour and days later Olympic gold.
Add his Giro disappointment and non-involvement in the race he won last year and a current reluctance to return is understandable. But give it a year and see what happens. If the form returns – he was in second place despite a patchy ride when he dropped out of the Giro – it is by no means inconceivable that he will Tour again, particularly with the lure of the 101st edition beginning in Britain next year. He has earned the right to change his mind.