Sir Bradley Wiggins loses race against time to defend Tour title

Team Sky saddened but say champion has ‘gone past point of return’ after injury to left knee

Bradley Wiggins will not defend his Tour de France title after Team Sky yesterday decided there was  not enough time for the Briton to  recover sufficiently from a knee injury before the start of the race in Corsica at the end of this month. It is a crushing blow for Wiggins, whose annus  mirabilis of 2012 has been succeeded by a year to forget.

Wiggins was forced to withdraw from the Giro d’Italia with a chest  infection but it is an injury to his left knee, sustained before the race, that has crippled his chances of making the Tour. He has been unable to train properly since returning from Italy and will not be fit enough to take part in either the Critérium du Dauphiné, which begins tomorrow, or the Tour of Switzerland, starting on 8 June. As a result the decision has been taken not to include him in the line-up for the Tour, which opens on 29 June.

“It’s a huge disappointment not to make the Tour,” said Wiggins yesterday. “I desperately wanted to be there, for the team and for all the fans along the way – but it’s not going to happen. I can’t train the way I need to train and I’m not going to be ready. Once you accept that, it’s almost a relief not having to worry about the injury and the race against time.

“I’ve been through this before, when I broke my collarbone, so I know how it works. I’ll get this sorted, set new goals for this season and focus on those. This team has so many riders in great shape, ready for selection and we set incredible standards for performance which shouldn’t be compromised. We need to have the best chance to win.”

Dave Brailsford, Sky’s team principal, the other coaches and the medical staff decided that the combination of illness, injury and an interrupted training schedule meant it had become an unrealistic target for Wiggins to try and make the Tour. Sky do not like the unrealistic, so it was thought best to make an early decision to both allow Wiggins to plan for his long-term good and the team to be able to cement their preparations for the race.

“With illness, injury and treatment Brad has gone past the point where he can be ready for the Tour,” said Brailsford. “It’s a big loss but, given these circumstances, we won’t consider him for selection. He hasn’t been able to train hard since the Giro and now he needs further rest.

“While we all know these things happen in sport, it doesn’t take away from the fact that this is a huge disappointment for everyone in the team – and above all for Brad. It’s incredibly sad to have the reigning champion at Team Sky not lining up at the Tour. But he’s a champion, a formidable athlete and will come back winning as he has before.” He is the first defending champion unable to start a defence of his crown through injury since Greg LeMond in 1987. For an athlete of Wiggins’s build, with minimal body fat, illness can be particularly debilitating – during a media day before the Giro he refused to shake hands and repeatedly applied anti-bacterial gel such is the fear of picking up infection near race time.

Illness also opens the way for further injury. The infection that forced Wiggins out of the Giro, a race in which he had looked uncharacteristically ill at ease almost from day one, has cleared up according to Sky’s doctor, Richard Freeman, but an attempt to try and manage an inflammation on his left knee has not worked.

“Further medical investigations on the knee injury that we were managing at the Giro showed the condition was more significant than we thought,” said Freeman. “It’s needed intensive treatment and, while it will be fully  resolved, Bradley now needs to rest completely for five days before a gradual return to full training over a period of two to three weeks.”

It leaves September’s world road and time trial championships in Italy, or possibly the Tour of Spain in August, as the likeliest targets for Wiggins to look to try and salvage something from a year that is spanning out in stark  contrast to his string of triumphs  in 2012.

He has been dogged not only by illness but also mechanical issues and a lack of his best form.

Ever since he began preparations for 2013 Wiggins has suffered misfortune, beginning with being knocked off his bike last November just as he eased into serious training for the coming season. He has not won a race this year – in part down to the preparation programme Sky planned for him in the build-up to the Giro – and that has been accompanied by a sense of  indecision over what he truly wanted from the season.

Wiggins wanted to win the Giro but there have been conflicting messages over his broader intentions. The suspicion is he was always determined to have a go at defending his historic Tour title, and doing all he could to  persuade Brailsford that he should even be able to have some sort of ride-off for the leadership with Chris Froome once the Tour got underway.

His non-appearance is a huge personal disappointment but also a blow for those looking forward to one of the more intriguing sporting contests of the year given the frostiness between two team-mates.  

An early decision on Wiggins certainly suits Froome. Wiggins’ talk of defending his title had sat uneasily with his younger compatriot. Sky were forced to repeatedly back Froome’s proposed leadership of the Tour team amid the swirl of speculation around Wiggins’ intentions.

It leaves Froome and Sky to concentrate on fine-tuning their Tour preparations, beginning with tomorrow’s eight-stage Dauphine, a race described by Froome as a “mini-Tour”. The 28-year-old is enjoying the sort of season that launched Wiggins to his unforgettable achievements last year, winning three of his four races. He is favourite to win the Dauphiné – as Wiggins did last year – as well as, at this early stage, the Tour.

Froome has not raced in May, concentrating instead on a block of training, first at altitude at Sky’s Spartan base in Tenerife and then on the roads around his Monaco home.

Bradley’s bother:  Riding into trouble

8 Nov 2012

Sir Bradley Wiggins suffered fractured ribs after being knocked off his bike while training near his home in Lancashire.

11-16 Feb 2013: Tour of Oman

After aiding team-mates in the Trofeo races, he finished 74th in his first tour of the season as he helped British team-mate Chris Froome to his maiden win.

18-24 March: Volta a Catalunya

Finished fifth, 54 seconds behind winner Daniel Martin. Opted against defending his Paris-Nice title.

16-19 April: Giro del Trentino

Another fifth-place as Vincenzo Nibali took the honours in Italy.

4-17 May: Giro d’Italia

Caught in stage-seven crash before withdrawing due to chest infection. Team principal Dave Brailsford announced during race that Chris Froome would be Team Sky’s lead for the Tour de France.

CAMILLA CHAPMAN

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