2012 has the potential to be one of the most memorable in the history of British cycling. There’s the Olympic Games in London, where Team GB will be expected to claim a clutch of medals, and also the prospect of Team Sky launching their boldest bid yet for sustained success in the Grand Tours.
Despite crashing out in this year’s Tour de France and breaking his collarbone, Mark Cavendish enjoyed arguably his most successful and consistent season in 2011 as his victory in the Criterium de Dauphine and third place finish in the Vuelta a Espana attest to. Just two weeks after the Vuelta he helped his new Team Sky colleague Cavendish claim victory in the World Road Race Championships in Copenhagen. And despite their well-publicised differences in the past, Wiggins is thrilled at the prospect of working with Cavendish throughout next season.
“I knew Cav was joining the team a long, long time ago. I’ve been encouraging him all along to come here, particularly when he was deliberating so much at the start of the year. We have a very close relationship. We haven’t always got on but ultimately we have come out of the other end shining and the Worlds was evidence of this.”
“His inclusion in the team brings so much more than the performance factor – there’s his character and his leadership skills too. Certainly if I’d had someone like Cav in the Tour this year I wouldn’t have crashed, so his presence could make a huge difference to me.”
Having two of British cycling’s biggest stars, and two of its most recognisable faces, together on the same team – a British team – should result in a further boost to the sport’s profile in the UK. This is a point that excites Wiggins, even if it results in him getting stopped in the street more often.
“Every year the popularity of cycling in the UK gets bigger and bigger. Mark joining Team Sky will only increase that popularity further. For British cycling it’s almost like it’s meant to be. It will be great for the sport and I don’t think we fully appreciate that yet within the team. What we did with Cav at the Worlds was incredible and it was an amazing feeling to be part of it but I don’t think any of us realised the impact it had back home and how much people were supporting us.
“It’s nice to be recognised for being successful at something, especially at a time when British culture seems to be recognising people for achieving virtually nothing. So it’s flattering to be stopped in the street and be told nice things about your success. The best part is being told that you have inspired people to take up cycling. The stuff that you go through – crashing out and coming back, the ups and downs – seems to resonate with them.”
By finishing in fourth place in the 2009 Tour de France, Wiggins equalled the best ever finish by a British rider in road cycling’s flagship event. His two subsequent appearances in the race have resulted in disappointment though, with this year’s crash being preceded by a 24th-placed finish in 2010. He clearly has unfinished business there but his attitude towards the build-up to the race has changed radically in the last couple of years. So much so that he admits that he hasn’t even looked at next year’s route, despite it being unveiled in a whirl of publicity in Paris a couple of weeks ago.
“I haven’t seen the Tour route for next year yet. I’ve been out of the country in New York and been totally oblivious to what’s been going on. I’ve learned over the last two years that knowing about the route this far ahead means nothing as you can’t do a recce of it so early on. If I’m honest it’s not something I’m interested in at this stage and it isn’t something I’ll look at. But at the same time my coaching team are working behind the scenes analysing it and coming up with a proposal that they’ll present to me in the New Year.”
“The announcement of the route is always so close to the end of the season that you’re in switch off mode. 2011 was almost a breakout year for me in terms of consistency and overall performance, although the Tour didn’t go too well. But I’ve kind of stopped thinking about the Tour and stopped worrying about it, which was something I did a lot a couple of years ago. I’ve learned to accept both disappointment and success, learned to deal with both and to not over-analyse things too much.”
So does he think that the variations in the route from year to year make much difference to the eventual outcome, or does he think that he best rider always wins?
“I think through the [Lance] Armstrong years there was a definite element of the best rider winning. I think that’s mainly still the case, but the route can make a difference within the race. This year there was a lot of crashes in the first week that eliminated some of the big names before we even got to the mountains. Early on, in Brittany, it was very windy. The year before Lance was already well down before the cobbled stage, so it can have an effect on the GC. But ultimately once you get to the mountains, the mountains are mountains, and there are no easy stages there. The route is what it is and you train to its demands. You can’t afford to think ‘I wish it was this’ or ‘I wish I had that’ – you accept it and get training.”
With three gold medals already on his mantelpiece, many sections of the media have been speculating that Wiggins would sacrifice next year’s Olympics in London to focus solely on the Tour, which finishes only five days before the start of the Games. But competing in both is a challenge that he is ready to take on, and one that will excite him as he goes into arguably the most important winter of his career.
“The Olympics has always been a massive part of my life and this one will be the most special as it’s at home. So it’s definitely a priority but I can’t sacrifice the Tour after what happened this year. Some people will say that I’m being greedy but I think that it’s possible to excel in both.”
“Evidence of this came to me this year when I competed in the Worlds within a couple of weeks of finishing third at the Vuelta. It proved that you can put in a world class performance so soon after a Grand Tour. So I am confident and my training next year will be geared towards being able to do it. It’s about trying to achieve greatness I suppose by finishing high up in the Tour and winning Olympic gold. You can’t win a raffle if you don’t buy a ticket.”