Wiggins takes a step backwards

This week Bradley Wiggins has finally completed his move from Garmin-Slipstream to the new British outfit Team Sky. Ever since he finished 4th in the Tour de France last July, this transfer has been rumored, and with a Tour contender shaped hole on the Team Sky roster it seemed like a probable move. I honestly thought that Team Sky had missed the boat and the rider transfer wouldn’t happen until next year. Most teams have already started their winter training camps and all team roster changes are usually finalised before November. Wiggins’ signing has come very late in the day and Team Sky boss Dave Brailsford has finally landed the Tour contender he so dearly wanted. I had suggested in a previous post that Team Sky could not take a Tour place for granted and they could be up against it to secure a wild card invitation to the French Grand Tour next year. With the signing of Wiggins they still can’t take a Tour place as a given, but they now have a much better chance of being extended an invite at the expense of one of the weaker teams.

The transfer itself seemed to be a very drawn out process which was never far from the headlines. Garmin boss Jonathan Vaughters had repeatedly stated that Wiggins had a year left on his Garmin contract and that he expected the rider to honour that contract. Wiggins had been saying the same, sort of. He also said, now infamously, that to win the Champion’s League you need to be playing for a team like Manchester United, but he was currently at a team more like Wigan Athletic. Now Bradley Wiggins has gotten his wish and has moved to what he feels is a stronger team than Garmin and he will now have the chance to chase road success with the same backup team that supported him throughout his success on the track. His goal next year will undoubtedly be to finish on the podium in the Tour de France, but by leaving his Garmin team mates behind has he really put himself in a better position to achieve this goal?

As I see it, the Tour teams of Team Sky and Garmin-Transitions (as they’ll be known next season) will look something like this:

Possible 2010 Tour de France lineups for Bradley Wiggins' new team and former team.

Possible 2010 Tour de France lineups for Bradley Wiggins' new team and former team.

Firstly, looking at the team mates Wiggins has left behind; he would have been able to call on the climbing talents of Ryder Hesjedal, Tom Danielson, Dan Martin and Christian Vande Velde. Hesjedal won a mountainous stage of the Vuelta a Espana this year and will be riding all out as a domestique for Wiggins in return for a protected rider status at the 2010 Vuelta. Danielson will be doing the same having put in a solid performance at this year’s Vuelta, abandoning with an illness on stage 18 whilst in 9th place overall, having previously finished in the top 10 twice in the Spanish Grand Tour. Dan Martin is a young, up and coming pure climber who served effectively as a domestique to Danielson in the Vuelta. Christian Vande Velde has himself finished 4th in the Tour de France (2008) and proved himself to be invaluable to Wiggins’ challenge for a podium spot this year.

In addition to the climbing talent, there’s the time trialling expertise of David Millar and David Zabriskie who can both also be relied upon to do a turn on the lower slopes as the road rises upwards. The two Davids will also be expected to form part of the sprint train for the young American Tyler Farrar who will be harvesting hopes of defeating Mark Cavendish in the bunch sprints. Julian Dean will also be employed as a lead out man for Farrar. The final rider will be Johan van Summeren who is an all rounder who is regarded as one of the best domestiques in the peloton.

Not much will change for Garmin, who started the 2008 and 2009 Tours with the goal of getting Christian Vande Velde on the podium. Wiggins’ new found climbing ability was still in the unknown stage when he took to the start of the Tour de France, the transition of Wiggins to team leader only occurred once the Tour had already started. Getting Vande Velde on the podium will again be Garmin’s goal in 2010, along with stage victories for Farrar.

Now to Wiggins’ new team mates at Team Sky: Kurt Asle Arvesen, Kjell Carlstrom and Juan Antonio Flecha are all experienced Tour riders with fifteen Tour starts between them. But they are riders more suited to the spring classics, and therefore at the Tour, will not be much use as domestiques for Wiggins in the mountains. The two other Brits in the team, Thomas and Froome have only ridden the Tour once each and again are not ideally suited to protecting Wiggins in the high mountains. Edvald Boasson Hagen will be making his Tour debut and will be expected to challenge the likes of Cavendish, Farrar and Hushovd for sprint victories with Flecha, Arvesen and Thomas forming a lead out train.

That leaves Wiggins with Simon Gerrans and Thomas Lovkvist as the two most likely men to be there or thereabouts when he requires protection in the high mountains. However, while Gerrans is a competent climber, the reason he left Cervelo is because he didn’t fit the bill as a domestique for Carlos Sastre and ultimately didn’t make the Tour team. It will be hard now to convince Gerrans to curb his quest for stage wins in favour of riding for Wiggins. Lovkvist, until Wiggins came along, was under the impression that he would be assuming the role of leader of Team Sky at the Tour next year. Perhaps his nose will now be slightly bent out of shape having been bumped down to the role of domestique for Bradley Wiggins.

On paper I feel that Garmin are stronger in all areas than Team Sky. They are a more rounded team with clearer goals in mind for the Tour. Obviously, Dave Brailsford’s goal for the Tour will be to get Wiggins on the podium, but he’ll have a tough time motivating and preparing  the rest of the team for this task. Wiggins may think he’s secured his move from Wigan to Man United, but I can’t help but feel he’s done the opposite.

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