Bradley Wiggins is convinced he can be an overall contender in this year’s Tour de France after both he and Team Sky learnt from their mistakes of 2010.
Wiggins was named as team leader of the British team on Thursday and talked to media at Kew Gardens in London, after Team Sky unveiled a special green kit and bike colours that promotes Sky’s Rainforest Rescue campaign.
Last year Wiggins was tense and nervous as he approached his first Tour de France with Team Sky, secretly knowing that riding the Giro d’Italia had left him tired and struggling with his form. With a new coaching set-up helping and him and his confidence boosted by overall success at the Criterium du Dauphine, he now seems like the rider who shocked the cycling world by finishing fourth in the 2009 Tour de France.
“A year ago I was sat here knowing that it wasn’t going to happen for me. But I still had to portray that it was. That’s difficult because I knew I’d look stupid when it all went wrong,” he confessed.
“It’s a completely different contrast to last year. Last year I was basically not ready for one reason or another. This year we’ve really prepared for it and hopefully got it right.”
Wiggins is fully focused on the Tour de France but has targeted and won other races during the season. A change of strategy that came after a detailed analysis of what went wrong in 2010.
“I finished fourth in 2009 off my own back and so I thought I knew it all. And I came into this team and was surrounded by people who said yes to me all the time,” Wiggins explained.
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“I did the Giro last year because I thought it worked for me but then I fell on my arse in July. After that it became clear that something had gone terribly wrong. I knew I needed outside help and I said that when we sat in the office and debriefed with Dave (Brailsford).
“I specifically asked if Shane Sutton could coach me. He gets involved in the management side of things but really he’s a coach, he’s an old school coach. He told me how it was and he’s the only person in the team who can tell me that really.
“With his coaching and with the support of the science side of things from Tim Kerrison, who came from swimming in Australia, things started working instantly. I haven’t had that full-on coaching help since the track and its good to have. Now I don’t need to think about what I do on a daily basis, it’s all laid out for me.”
Wiggins’ coaching staff has changed but so has his own mentality.
“I’ve got more experience than anything. The self belief from having the results always helps too. Now I don’t think I have to justify what I’m going to do in July because the results so far back that up.”
“I’ve also stepped up as a leader and I’ve accepted my role within the team. I recognized I had to do that last winter. I wasn’t behaving like a leader and I wasn’t leading the other riders, who were looking for me to lead them.”
The strength of Team Sky
Wiggins arrived late at Team Sky after his difficult divorce from Garmin during the winter of 2009 and many of the team’s resources were directed on the creation of the team. This year Team Sky seems a real team. The riders have won more races during the first part of the season and were a well-drilled, highly effective team at the Dauphine.
“The teams moved on leaps and bounds without really preaching it. I think that was always going to happen after starting something this big. We learnt a lot last year: how the team had to be run and the goals we had to set ourselves,” Wiggins said.
“We sat down last November and we knew that things had to change things. I decided to hit the ground running to build up a set of results to support the whole thing going forward. It seems to be working. I went to Paris-Roubaix and helped Geraint Thomas and Juan Antonio Flecha, who are going to support me in the next three weeks.”
“The core of the team has been together for a long time now. The guys were great at the Dauphine, supporting me all the way, and I think that will continue during the Tour de France. The belief they have in me is humbling. They could all win a stage or do something but they are willing to give it up for me and that’s quite something.”
No Tour de France strategy
Wiggins flatly dismissed the idea that he peaked too soon by winning the Dauphine as ‘bollocks” and claims he does not have a detailed strategy for this year’s Tour de France. He studied some of the key climbs in the Alps last week but has not spent hours studying stage profiles on the internet or worrying about what he can’t control.
“I think the Tour de France is so complicated that you can’t really say that you want to finish in the top three. Everyone goes into a bike race wanting to win but so much can happen,” he said.
“You’ve got evaluate where you are throughout the race. You can always have a bad moment and that could mean you don’t win the Tour but it doesn’t mean you don’t finish third or fourth.
“Last year not having the form and then trying to go with Schleck and Contador was a disaster. At the Dauphine I rode my own race and I’ve got to do that at the Tour. I could get to the final time trial in Grenoble and then pull back two minutes on some people. It’s about riding to your strengths for three weeks.”
“At the moment for me the Tour is just about the first weekend, finishing the team time trial and then looking forward further into the race. I couldn’t really tell you where the race goes after the team time trial or in the first week. I’ll just look each morning, so I’m not distracted by the whole thing.”
“I was criticised for not attacking in the Dauphine but I’m not a climber. I’m an 82kg natural weight person with a lot of power, but I get my body down to 70kg for the Tour de France. So I ride to my strengths. I’m a good time trialist. I make my time in the time trials and then do what I have to do. It’s about getting the best out of yourself. There are no prizes for being heroic but losing.”
The Contador conundrum
During the Dauphiné, Wiggins was quizzed about the presence of Alberto Contador’s at this year’s Tour de France. He seemed to be against the Spaniard riding despite still waiting to find out if he is guilty of doping from last year’s race. However, he believes he isn’t guilty and is just saddened about the damage the long, drawn out process is causing to cycling.
“I’m big fan of Contador. I don’t think he’s guilty. I think it’s a farce the way the whole thing has been handled, from the governing body point of view and from the people who have sanctioned him,” Wiggins said.
“I think it’s a shame for cycling that this hasn’t been resolved before the Tour de France. He could win, finish and the decision could be made. That just damages cycling even further and is really sad for the sport.
“All we want to do is just race. There are guys like Basso and Vino in the peloton, who have served their time, done it, the decisions were made and they’re back in the sport. I think it’s a shame that the potential winner of this Tour de France is still having this hanging over his head.”
This article was originally published on Cyclingnews.com.