Team Sky made an unexpectedly early call on their rider hierachy for the Tour of Oman today at the end of a bunch sprint stage, won by German’s Marcel Kittel: Sir Bradley Wiggins, who lost time after being blocked by a late crash, will be working for Chris Froome in the Middle Eastern race.
There had been speculation that Sky would leave their options open before plumping for either the 2012 Tour winner or the runner-up at least until Tuesday's first hilly stage. But after the finish, Wiggins confirmed himself that Froome will be Sky’s number one rider in the Tour of Oman.
“Chris is leading here,” he said, “it all went well today, (Monday), we were working for him.”
“The goal is to get Froome to the top there [of Thursday’s crucial Green Mountain summit] as best as possible. My title here is second [Sky rider for] GC and how that pans out, whether I go for it as well, remains to be seen.”
Ever since last July, there has been intense speculation on how Froome and Wiggins handle the leadership question at Sky for the 2013 Tour de France, with Oman, as the one stage race where the two are racing together before July, coming in for particularly close scrutiny.
But Wiggins put a damper on any overenthusiastic reading of the omens in the six-day stage race - which is after all, an early season race four months before the Tour de France - pointing out that after such a successful 2012, he did not feel obliged this year to get some confidence-boosting results from the word go.
“I feel quite tired if I’m honest. I’ve had a busy couple of week training but it’s just the phase we’re in at the moment,” Wiggins said at the stage one finish.
“You get to these races and you want to be part of it; I’d love to be up there on the climb in a few days time, but the reality is that I probably won’t be. But for what were aiming for in a couple of months time, this is the period where it needs to be done. Which is quite different last year when we raced to win.”
Sky’s decision to opt for Froome in Oman was reinforced by circumstances beyond their control when Wiggins was blocked behind a late crash on stage one and the Briton lost 81 seconds. Normally riders affected by accidents that happen three kilometres or less before the finish, as was Wiggins case, are declared to have completed the course in the same time as the main pack. But on this occasion race judges later decreed, without giving an official reason, that Wiggins’ time loss was to stand.
Rather than Oman, Wiggins said his first target will be the Tour of Catalunya in March, as he builds towards attempting to become the first British winner of the Giro d’Italia in May. As for the Middle Eastern race he named Alberto Contador as one key rival for Froome - just as the Spaniard is expected to be for both Britons come the summer.