Will Chris Froome or Bradley Wiggins be Team Sky’s main man in next year’s Tour de France?
Dave Brailsford tells Alasdair Fotheringham that his top two riders don’t have to get on to be successful – but the call as to who will be top dog will be left for now
As the last railings were cleared away here in Paris from the late-night celebrations of the centenary edition of the Tour de France, Sky’s team principal, Sir Dave Brailsford, said that his two star riders, Sir Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome, would ride together in races in the future, including – possibly – next year’s Tour.
Asked if Wiggins could lead the team again in a Grand Tour, Brailsford said: "Potentially, potentially. We'll have to see how the rest of the season goes but you can't rule anything out. We're not in the game of ruling things out, we're in the game of ruling things in."
That includes therefore the possibility of Wiggins and Froome, winners of the 2012 and 2013 Tour de France respectively, competing together when the race starts in Yorkshire on 5 July next year. It is a prospect which Brailsford describes as "brilliant... I think whoever represents us [Sky] will be warmly welcomed."
Asked if he thought it was feasible to have both of them on the Tour start-line, Brailsford said: "On a personal level, I'd love to [see that]. Because they're such great talents." The Sky top director intimated that would have been the case in this year's Tour had Wiggins not opted to make the Giro d'Italia his main target - and then failed to start the Tour de France because of injury.
"If we hadn't decided 'let's go for more than one Grand Tour [the Giro and the Tour de France] and thought 'how do we use the riders we've got in different ways?' If we said 'we'll just try and win the Tour de France next year, and you put the nine absolute tip-top guys for next year, that'd be a strong team. So maybe we do that," Brailsford said.
What does seem unlikely is that Wiggins will either return to the Vuelta a Espana, which begins in late August and was where he finished a breakthrough third in 2011, or the Giro, which he abandoned ill and injured in May. Richie Porte currently seems to be Sky's most likely leader in the Italian Grand Tour, while Wiggins has already ruled out the Vuelta this year, preferring to focus on September's Tour of Britain and the world time-trial championships. Froome, meanwhile, will be building towards the road-race world championships in September and then end-of-season classics like the Tour of Lombardy.
For next year's Tour, it seems likely that Froome and Wiggins could well both be present - once more reviving the whole question of who would be the team leader, an issue which has been rumbling along since the Vuelta in 2011.
Since then - as Froome showed himself to be the strongest climber in the 2012 Tour and Wiggins the most solid all-rounder - Sky's leadership question has been a subject of constant speculation in the media, to the point where Froome issued a press release affirming his top spot for Sky (as the team had always stated) for July.
The plot thickened yet further when Froome said he wished Wiggins had been on the Tour after a day when Sky came under intense pressure from Alberto Contador's Saxo-Tinkoff squad and Froome lost 69 seconds. However, Froome and Wiggins' relationship on a personal level seems to be difficult, with Froome's shortest answer in the whole of his Tour winner's press conference coming when he was asked if he had heard from Wiggins during the race or received any congratulatory text messages from the Londoner up until that point. He hadn't.
Yet another issue muddying the water is that Wiggins himself has questioned whether he will again win the Tour de France. However, Brailsford is adamant that the question of whether his two riders actually click personally is irrelevant. All that matters is whether they work as a team.
"Everybody goes on about, can they be friends? I don't spend a nano-second worrying about whether they get on or not.
"People talk about having team unity and team harmony... I don't buy that at all, most of the best teams I've been with, they're not harmonious.
"This is a gritty environment, where people are pushing hard. Same with the Olympic team. There are agitators and it's a hard environment to spend a month in."
What you need is what Brailsford calls "goal harmony". "There's a big difference between the two. I don't care if people like each other or not, but there's a big difference - and they all understand the difference - between professional and personal behaviour," he said.
"You can have the best friends, the closest-knit group, but if they're not 100 per cent aligned behind the goal, it's not going to work."
Indeed, in the one event Froome and Wiggins have raced together since Wiggins took the Tour de France last year - the Tour of Oman - personal issues did not raise their head. Instead, Froome won hands down while Wiggins played the role of team worker, and played it well. But at that point, too, Froome had nowhere near the road-racing results of Wiggins: now both riders have three Grand Tour podium finishes each, two of them each in the Tour de France. The stakes for both riders, therefore, are rising.
Brailsford said that, before any decisions are made, they will wait until the end of the season - in which so far Wiggins has failed to win a single race (although only a puncture stopped him from doing so in the Giro time trial), while Froome has only failed to win one of the stage races he has started.
The fine details of the 2014 Tour route, published on 23 October in Paris, will presumably have an impact on the leadership issue. So too, will the usual risks of injuries and illnesses - which settled the question in Froome's favour this month. Time would not be on Wiggins's side either, given that only three riders older than 34, which will be the Londoner's age next July, have ever won the Tour.
What is certain is that for all Brailsford feels - as he has said elsewhere - Froome can win several Tours, Wiggins is not automatically out of the frame for next July. And quite how the power play would work is impossible to predict. So for now, after Froome's victory two days ago, it is clear who is the rising star for stage racing in the Sky team, but Wiggins could yet bounce back.
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