Cycling's longest simmering feud is threatening to reach boiling point once again - but it's not the men in the saddles stoking the flames.
Sir Bradley Wiggins lines up at the start of the three-week Giro d’Italia today, for what he hopes will culminate in the first leg of a Grand Tour double, having stated his determination to go on and defend his Tour de France title come June. That announcement earlier in the week outraged Michelle Cound, the fiancée of his teammate and rival Chris Froome, who finished second in Paris last year after playing a critical supporting role in the historic win.
Following the barbed exchange with Sir Bradley’s wife, Cath, during the 2012 Tour, inevitably dubbed “War of the Wags”, Cound is now lobbing more tweets at the Wiggins camp. In a message, hastily deleted overnight on Thursday, she said there were “blatant lies from Brad” in an article by respected journalist William Fotheringham. The 33-year-old Olympic champion had said that Team Sky “may run with both of us”, referring to possible co-leadership of the nine-strong Tour de France team.
In cycling’s blue riband event, teams with podium intentions tend to ride in the support of one man, yet Britain and Team Sky are blessed with two world-class riders. Wiggins said the leader would not be decided until days before the Grand Depart in Corsica on 29 June. Froome rushed out a statement reiterating he had been assured by management the No 1 spot is his.
Tensions are extremely high. Wiggins stonewalled any questions about Froome and the Tour at the official Giro launch in Naples on Thursday, telling reporters to talk to Team Sky boss Sir Dave Brailsford. He is staying silent, which cannot be said of Cound. She demanded: “I look forward to @TeamSky clearing up this mess (ASAP) #fedup.” Cound added to the intrigue yesterday by tweeting: “Everything is being resolved.”
Team Sky is privately briefing that Wiggins is their No 1 for the Giro and Froome is team leader for the Tour.
Mrs Wiggins is keeping her powder dry, having deleted her Twitter account in the aftermath of defending her husband’s one-fingered salute to paparazzi when he left hospital last November, having been knocked over by a Porsche during a training ride.
The Wiggins-Froome rivalry is fast becoming the most tense in sport, surpassing even that of Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber in Formula One’s Red Bull team.
And Cound, a cycling photographer, hinted earlier this week that she did not expect the pair to race together. “Chris & Brad on the same start line, in the same kit? Mmmmmm … doubt it!” she said, adding: “To those claiming this Wiggins/Froome thing is some sort of publicity stunt, you are wrong.”
Referring to their partners in an interview earlier this year, Froome said: “Obviously they had rubbed each other up the wrong way. That’s life.”
But Cound is trampling on anyone who defends Wiggins’s right to retain the Tour winner’s yellow jersey. When Fotheringham declared “Why would he [Wiggins] not want to win the Tour?” Cound pounced: “Sounds like @willfoth is a bit of a puppet in all of this”, she tweeted. That too has been deleted.
Having spent the day with Froome on a recon mission of Mont Ventoux, one of the Tour de France’s toughest climbs, Cound told The Independent “everything should be clarified by the team by tomorrow” (Saturday).
Just like their partners, the women are equally strong characters and have disparate backgrounds. Born in Wales, Cound spent the first five years of her life in Port Talbot until she and her family moved to South Africa. She and Froome now divide their time between there and Monaco – dubbed “a shit-hole” by Wiggins last year when asked if he would ever leave the UK. “I couldn’t think of a worse place to live.”
Cath Wiggins has stayed close to her Lancastrian roots. Her home is Eccleston, close to the Pennines, with her husband and their children Ben and Isabella.
Revenge is Tweet: Cound’s comments
@michellecound 2 May
@willfoth @mattseaton @inrng there were blatant lies from Brad in your initial story William. Unless you misquoted?
@michellecound 1 May
@Greg_Keller sounds like @willfoth is a bit of a puppet in all of this.
@michellecound 30 Apr
I look forward to @TeamSky clearing up this mess (ASAP). #fedup
@michellecound 30 Apr
To those claiming that this Wiggins/Froome thing is some sort of publicity stunt, you are wrong.
@michellecound 30 Apr
Chris & Brad on the same start line, in the same kit? Mmmmmm… doubt it!