SIR BRADLEY WIGGINS will not compete in this year’s Tour de France despite claiming his third British national time trial title on Thursday evening.
Team Sky have confirmed the make-up of their nine-man team for this year’s Tour, which will start with two stages in North Yorkshire next weekend, and Wiggins is the most notable omission.
As expected, reigning champion Chris Froome has been confirmed as the team leader as he looks to defend the title he won in thrilling fashion last summer, with Richie Porte, Geraint Thomas and Mikel Nieve providing his chief support.
However, there is no place for Wiggins, who confirmed his status as the world’s leading time-trial specialist as he finished more than a minute clear of his British rivals at the National Championships, or Yorkshire sprinter Ben Swift, who has been left out of a line-up that has been designed specifically to support Froome’s pursuit of the yellow jersey rather than target stage wins.
Wiggins’ failure to make Team Sky’s Tour squad was widely expected, but will still have come as a considerable blow to the 2012 champion, whose personal relationship with Froome effectively disintegrated as he became the first British rider to win the Tour.
He will now compete as part of the British cycling squad at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, but his future with Team Sky will be called into question, even though team principal Sir Dave Brailsford insists his fellow knight remains an integral part of the squad.
“It has been a golden decade for cycling,” said Brailsford. “Bradley Wiggins lies at the heart of a lot of that success, and although he has not been selected for this race, he is still a key member of Team Sky and a great champion.
“The last time the Tour came to Britain it helped sow the seeds for what eventually became Team Sky. Everyone should be immensely proud of how far we’ve come, and we can’t wait to ride in front of the UK fans. I believe that this will mark the moment when Britain truly becomes a cycling nation.”
Froome has fully recovered from the crash that hampered his attempts to win the Criterium du Dauphine earlier this month, and will start the Tour as a strong favourite to retain his title despite stiff competition from Alberto Contador and Vincenzo Nibali in particular.
He will not be targeting a victory in the opening two stages, which run from Leeds to Harrogate next Saturday and York to Sheffield 24 hours later, but accepts he will have to be up with the leading pack throughout to ensure he is well positioned when the Tour heads into the French mountain stages, which are generally decisive.
The presence of Australian Porte, his preferred right-hand man, should help, and Nieve could also prove a crucial lieutenant, having won the final stage of the Criterium.
“We know how hard it is to win this race, and that it takes a totally focused and carefully-constructed team, with the right blend of riders, to give us the best chance of victory,” said Brailsford. “Each rider has been selected to play a specific role, which will involve total sacrifice and commitment to the team’s ambition of reaching the Champs-Elysees in yellow.
“In tackling the difficult challenge of selecting this team, we have stuck to a performance-first philosophy, which has brought us considerable success, firstly at British Cycling and then with Team Sky, for more than a decade.
“Given the number of talented riders in Team Sky, this approach has inevitably led to some very tough decisions. However, it is crucial to remain totally focused on the desired outcome, and we’re racing to win.”
Having spent almost a week in the region reconnoitring the route of the opening two stages, Froome cannot wait to receive a hearty North Yorkshire welcome as the defence of his Tour title begins.
“We did a recce of the Yorkshire stages a few weeks ago, and the excitement was already starting to build,” he said. “The support we have received has been fantastic.
“I’ll never forget the atmosphere on the roads during the London Olympics, and to receive similar support at the Tour would be amazing. There’s no greater motivation for us than riding in front of our UK fans.”
When it comes to Wiggins, Team Sky’s loss is the English Commonwealth Games team’s gain, with the four-time Olympic gold medallist now free to compete in Glasgow.
Wiggins is expected to compete in the individual time trial, and could also feature on the track in the individual and team pursuits.
“I’m very happy to be able to welcome Sir Bradley back to the track team for the Commonwealth Games,” said British Cycling chief Shane Sutton. “His addition will be a real morale boost to the rest of the track squad. The decision of who will ride what event will be made nearer the time.”