Leading British rider Bradley Wiggins seriously considered giving up professional cycling following his Cofidis team's expulsion from this year's Tour in the wake of yet another doping scandal. Wiggins decided to fight on to prove it is possible to win clean, but at a press conference today in Manchester he had strong words for the dopers, ASO, the Tour organisers, and leading team managers.
Bradley Wiggins was one of the innocent victims of his Cofidis teammate Cristian Moreni's positive test for testosterone. The result, announced during the Tour's 16th stage between Orthez and the Col d'Aubisque, led to Cofidis being thrown out of the race and all its team members and staff being questioned by French police, because doping is a criminal offence in France.
After questioning, Wiggins returned home to Manchester, angered and disillusioned by the recent events in the Tour. He gave a press conference on Friday morning, revealing that he had thought of quitting the race before the positive tests of Moreni and Alexandre Vinokourov, and even of retiring from the sport completely.
"The first 24 hours after it happened, my initial reaction was that I was going to get out of the sport through sheer anger," he said. "But once I got home and saw the family I calmed down. I'm willing to see things through."
Wiggins said that he wouldn't be going back to the Tour next year, "But that decision was already made with the Olympic games. That was my priority."
But for Wiggins, this Tour is dead.
"Watching it on the telly, I have no regrets that I wasn't there," he said. "It's not a nice place to be. This year's Tour has lost all credibility. It's null and void. People have already made their mind up.
"There are probably five people who've spoiled it out of nearly two hundred guys who started it in London. But that minority were the guys who were winning stages and taking the yellow jersey. It's disappointing. There's enough of us in this Tour de France who are there to make a difference for the future."
"I spoke to Geraint Thomas and Mark Cavendish and they're all pretty pissed off as well. I still believe there's a minority, willing to push the boundaries. That minority seems to be over 30 years old. They were all doing it 10 years agao. there's a new generation coming through that aren't willing to do that."
While he recognised that race organisers ASO are "trying to do their best", Wiggins added that, "They have to have a big rethink about who they invite back to the race in terms of the credibility of the race.
"Going into this race, there was a whole lot of suspicion around Astana, about who they were involved with (Dr Michele Ferrari) and where they came from." Wiggins referred to the previous incarnation of the team, Liberty Seguros, which was ejected from last year's Tour before the start because so many of its riders were linked to Operation Puerto.
"For me as a rider, that posed doubt before the start," he said. "That should never have been there. ASO are at fault on that one."
This was driven home in the Albi time trial, where Wiggins finished fifth behind three Astana riders and Cadel Evans. "I was pretty annoyed after that. I didn't want to talk to the press because I was afraid of what I would say. Two days later, my doubts were confirmed [When Alexandre Vinokourov's positive test was announced]. If my wife's flight had not been booked for Paris I would have climbed off the bike straight away. That's how pissed off I was."
A win in that time trial could have been worth a lot in terms of his contract for next year, Wiggins explained. But a fifth place is not going to carry the same weight with his team manager Eric Boyer, no matter how clean he is.
Wiggins also called on other team managers to take responsibility. "Ivan Basso got thrown off the Tour last year. Johan Bruyneel from Discovery goes and signs him this year for a million euro contract. The hypocrisy in that is unreal. You start asking questions of these guys. What's their motivation, if they're willing to sign someone who is under investigation?"
Wiggins thinks that it could take up to seven years for the Tour to regain its credibility, but despite everything, he can see the light at the end of a very long tunnel. "I wouldn't say I'm bitter, but I'm angered by it. It's made me determined to come through with it. I want to prove that there can be clean winners in the sport.
"I don't think it's the end of the Tour and I don't think it's the end of cycling.