“A Cyclist! Even cyclists hate f****** cyclists!” So says The Thick of It’s Malcolm Tucker in response to Chris Boardman’s name being mentioned in connection to a government campaign. Maybe he’s right. Cycling’s reputation has been dragged through mud so many times in recent years that the entire cycling community look as though they have been playing College Football at the 22 acres.
As riders are consistently exposed as drugs cheats at the highest level the fundamental validity of professional cyclists’ achievements have been undermined. The lack of confidence and trust invested in the sport by the public would make MP’s feel positively valued. Hopefully all that is about to change.
Yesterday, the recently formed Team Sky, led by British Cycling’s legendary Performance Director Dave Brailsford, announced that they had signed Bradley Wiggins. Wiggins, who is also a gold winning Olympian on the track, burst onto the world road racing stage at last year’s Tour de France, unexpectedly leaping from the peloton to match the world’s best in the mountains and finish fourth overall.
Since then much anticipation has surrounded Brailsford’s attempts to lure the darling of the British cycling world away from his American contract holders, Team Garmin Slipstream. With the addition of Wiggins it’s clear that he wants a team which can challenge for the ultimate prize in cycling in France next year. Wiggins is now a serious contender. Last year he was hindered during the first week of the tour by his duty to Garmin team leader Christian Van de Velde, before the American graciously offered his services to a rapidly improving Wiggins. This year he can train as the undoubted focal point of his team, one that will be devoted to making his passage through the flat early stages easy, before turning him loose in the mountains. Wiggins also has important advantage of being a time trial rider of some repute, a factor which will help to seperate him from more mountain orientated rivals.
Saying that, Wiggins’ attempt to scale the peak of his sport will not be without difficulty. Last year’s Tour Winner Alberto Contador outclassed his competition in the most important stages, showing an acceleration and fluidity in the mountains that no one could answer. He will be back in 2010 with his Astana team mates and will not be keen to give up his title.
Cycling legend Lance Armstrong will also be certain to be in the mix and may have stolen a march on his former Astana team mate by taking the strongest members of his team to his newly formed Team Radio Shack. Armstrong, like Wiggins, will be free from the distractions of a leadership battle with Contador that dogged his campaign last year. The now 40 year old Texan, and seven times Tour winner, does not usually compete to come second and proved that he does not go to France for a holiday, finishing third last year. Wiggins will also have to contend with the dual power of Franck and Andy Schleck, the brothers from Luxembourg who echo the talents of the late Marco Pantani with their vicious accelerations in the mountains.
If Wiggins manages to surpass his illustrious rivals he could go along way to restoring cycling’s standing as a sport. The British public have shown their willingness to get behind successful, and most importantly clean, cyclists by voting Chris Hoy as Sports Personality of the year for 2008. Wiggins is a formidable athlete who has consistently succeeded at the highest level, without the aid of the doping products that have become synonymous with cycling. Should he win next year’s Tour de France he will rightly be acknowledged as one of Britain’s greatest ever sportsmen.