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Chris Boardman talks Tour de France: I would unequivocally have taken Bradley Wiggins

“It might not be the best decision for team morale, or the overall result, but I think it would be best for British cycling” logo
Published: Saturday, 5th July 2014 at 6:01 am

Imagine Harrogate without Betty’s tea rooms, or even Yorkshire without puddings. To some folk, the thought of a Tour de France unfolding without 2012 winner Bradley Wiggins is no less unsettling, especially a Tour de France beginning just across the Pennines from Wiggins’s Lancashire home. But when the Tour gets under way in Leeds on Saturday, with genteel Harrogate at the end of its 190km first stage, Britain’s most decorated still-competitive cyclist will not be a part of Britain’s Team Sky.


His relative lack of race-fitness and the reported “friction” (which might be read as mutual loathing) between him and the team’s main rider, Chris Froome, who won last year’s Tour, are all factors in his almost-certain exclusion. Chris Boardman, the 1992 Olympic gold medallist who also knows what it feels like to wear the Tour’s coveted yellow jersey, understands why Wiggins is being left out, but thinks the British public will feel short-changed.

“There is an assumption that winning the race should always be the team goal. And taking Bradley Wiggins might not be the best recipe for bing on the top step in Paris [where the Tour ends on Sunday 27 July]. But it’s what the fans want to see, it’s good for the brand. Crossing the line first isn’t always what’s best.”

Boardman, who promotes cycling not just as a sport, but also as a form of transport, knows that in Wiggins he has PR gold.

“Bradley can be mercurial, volatile, but that makes him interesting,” he says. “He wears his heart on his sleeve, and people enjoy that. I watch other sports people, like Lewis Hamilton, who are very correct and always say the right thing, and frankly it’s pretty boring.

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“So if it had been my decision, if he was fit and healthy and committed, I would unequivocally have taken Bradley Wiggins. It might not be the best decision for team morale, or the overall result, but I think it would be best for British cycling. Saying that, I know it’s been a huge dilemma for Dave [Team Sky principal Dave Brailsford], especially with the Tour coming here. Dave is very collegiate in his decision-making, and if the team leader [Froome] has said, ‘These are the people I want around me, people I trust and get on with’, that opinion can’t be ignored. I feel for Dave.”

Boardman feels for Wiggins, too, and perceives a man in some kind of existential midlife crisis. “I see a lot of sports people trying to work out how to be happy, and for a long time they think success is the answer. When they achieve it, as Bradley did in 2012, they get to see whether that’s the case. And sometimes it’s not. Up to 2012 I saw someone setting himself goals and going after them ruthlessly. Now I see a very fit athlete, but not a hungry one. Riding bikes still pays his bills, but he’s trying to decide whether he really wants to do that. And the team are basically saying, ‘While you work that out, we’ll crack on with trying to win the Tour’.”

Boardman, only 45 but something of an elder statesman in British cycling, declines to describe the relationship between Wiggins and Froome as feud, exactly. “Friction, certainly. It’s normal with winners – they both want to be top dog.”

At the moment, top-dog status belongs to the less controversial, less charismatic Froome. If Wiggins had raced in the Tour, it would have been as part of the support act, trying to get Froome over the line first. Clearly, Froome believes that Wiggins is ill-equipped for such a supporting role. “We rode around him and his moods like he was a traffic island,” he writes in his autobiography, The Climb.

Wiggins is clearly disappointed to be left out. He admitted to BBC Breakfast, “I’m gutted. I’ve worked extremely hard for this... I feel I’m in the form where I was two years ago.” He also told French newspaper l’Equipe that he’d “wanted to play a supporting role” to Froome in the Tour.

Boardman believes that Wiggins could have suppressed his ego, could have been a team player. “But the perception is that he performs best as part of a team when the team is supporting him. And of course the team ethic is everything in the Tour. In cycling, 90 per cent of your energy is spent pushing air out of the way, so having somebody sitting in front of you, doing that for you, makes an enormous difference.”

Boardman hopes that the excitement the Tour generates in Britain, and the burgeoning popularity of cycling in general, will make an enormous difference, too, in changing the nation’s dependence on cars. “I have a wonderful soapbox,” he says, “because you don’t need to be pro-cycling to be pro-logic. Whichever battleground you choose – health, pollution, economics – it makes sense to get people riding bikes.

“I recently had a letter from David Cameron, saying he wants to see a cycling revolution and that his Government has committed £270 million over its term to cycling.

Well, that’s £1 per head [per year]. In Denmark they spend nearly £30 per head. So the goal and the resources don’t match. And what the Government won’t do is set measurable targerts.

“There are more than 30,000 obesity-related deaths in this country every year. Last year, there were 109 cycling deaths. So it’s incredibly safe, but it doesn’t look safe, and that’s because of the transport infrastructure. To change our car-driven culture will be painful and slow, but we have to do it.”

Wiggins or no Wiggins, the exhilarating spectacle of nearly 200 of the world’s best cyclists whizzing up hill and down Yorkshire dale might just bring Boardman’s vision a little closer to reality.

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