A “lack of trust” between Britons Chris Froome and Bradley Wiggins is the reason the latter will not be riding the Tour de France which takes off in Yorkshire in early July.
Despite Team Sky's insisting the team selection would not be concluded until late this month, Wiggins broke the silence by saying he was “gutted” not to be chosen to ride in the grand tour.
The 2012 Tour winner has shown excellent form lately, riding to a strong ninth-place finish in the one-day Parix-Roubaix before winning the Tour of California in impressive fashion. British cycling will now be without one of its biggest ever stars for the three days the Tour will be in Britain next month.
“If Brad doesn’t ride it will be a disaster for the sport in this country,” a senior figure in cycling told the Daily Mail. “Here was a chance to showcase the sport here in England with the last two winners of the Tour, who are both British. But because they don’t get on, the one who’s most popular with the fans is not going to be there. It’s embarrassing.”
The Tour-winning duo's relationship has been fraught with difficulty since Froome attacked Wiggins in the 2012 Tour, only to be immediately ordered back to help his struggling team leader.
Froome then led Sky and won last year's race in impressive fashion without Wiggins, who was absent because of a knee injury sustained in a tough Giro d'Italia a month earlier.
Sir Dave Brailsford, Team Sky's general manager, has showed his organisational qualities in the last ten years, but Wiggins said that because he and Froome have been kept apart this season, he has been refused the chance to prove that he is ready to support Froome.
“The team is focused around Chris Froome. I am gutted,” Wiggins said in a BBC interview aired on BBC on Friday.“
“I feel I am in the form I was two years ago. Now if I want to go to the Tour again, the reality is that I might have to go elsewhere. I also understand that cycling is a team sport and it is all about Team Sky winning and Chris is defending champion.
“For the dynamic of the team, Chris has a say and we haven’t raced together all year. When you’re in the heat of the moment, you need guys you can trust and who have been there for you. Tensions can rise between two riders.”
According to the Daily Mail, sources close to the team say the atmosphere is “dreadful” whenever they are together, refuting earlier claims made by the pair that they had removed any bad feelings at a training camp late last year.
The key problem is that Froome is unable to trust Wiggins in what is very much a team sport.
Wiggins' contract with the British cycling team expires after this season and he is believed to have spoken to other teams as his role at Sky seems to be gradually diminishing. One of the teams interested in bringing Wiggins into their fold is Australian outfit Orica – GreenEdge.
“Having missed the Tour again this year, I wouldn’t like to leave it there,” said Wiggins, who harbours track ambitions for the 2016 Olympic Gamas in Rio. “I’d love to go back at some point so there is the chance that I would go back to the Tour next year.”
After Wiggins' fine form in the spring season – his ninth-place finish at Parix-Rubaix was highly unexpected – it was widely expected he would be selected to support Froome's bid to defend his Tour crown from last summer.
“After Paris-Roubaix and the Tour of California, I felt good physically, I was ready to go,” Wiggins told French paper L'Equipe. “But these last few weeks, it has become more and more clear that I will not be at the Tour.”
According to Wiggins, he spoke to Brailsford this week and the manager told him he should concentrate on his preparations for the upcoming Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.
“It’s disappointing because it could have been my last Tour de France,” said Wiggins. “I’ve had my doubts since April. I hoped my performances would get me a place. But then, after California, I knew that they were all off on an altitude camp, but I wasn’t involved, nor was I involved in the Tour reconnaissance rides.
“The plan since the world championships last year was that, in an ideal world, Chris and I would ride together in the Tour and that everything would go well. I understood the role I would play, that Chris would be the leader and I was 100 per cent behind that.
“I wanted to play that support role. Then Shane Sutton (British Cycling’s technical director) told the press that I would have to fight very hard to win my place, that it was now Chris’s team and that Chris clearly had a say in selection.”
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