Brad Wiggins: One Hit Wonder or Legit Contender?

by Jack  

British cyclist Bradley Wiggins has been in the news a lot lately. Rumors started swirling shortly after this year's Tour de France that the new British cycling team, Team Sky, wanted to sign the surprising stand out. The problem was Wiggins, who rode to an impressive and unimaginable 4th place at the 2009 Tour, still had one more year on his contract with his current team, Garmin-Slipstream (soon to be named Garmin-Transitions). Wiggins was coy through most of the storm until recently. On December 10th, what was possibly the worse kept secret in professional cycling was revealed. Wiggins actually wanted to break his contract and sign with Team Sky. A transfer was finally negotiated between the two teams and now it's official. The British Tour contender will ride the 2010 season with the newly formed Team Sky, giving the team a legitimate contender for the July race. But is he really a contender? Will he be able to perform now that the world will be watching? He's not a dark horse anymore. We've seen riders surprise us one year at the Tour and then fall by the wayside the following years, caving to pressure or whatever else comes in the way.

29 year old Wiggins has always been known as a track star. He is proud owner of 4 medals from the 2004 Athens Olympics and 2 gold medals from the recent Beijing Olympics. Prior to his breakthrough at this year's Tour de France, his major wins have primarily been short time trials or prologues. Now that he's placed 4th, behind Contador, Andy Schleck and Armstrong, everyone expects Wiggins to continue to prove that he's transitioned into being a stage race contender and climber. But I'm not convinced.

First, everyone would agree that having one great season is much easier than having a consistent career full of great seasons. There are many variables such as health, your teammates, your coaching staff and the condition of your competition. Garmin and team boss Jonathan Vaughters saw something in Wiggins when they picked him up from Columbia-High Road a year ago. Vaughters saw the potential and carefully crafted the 2009 season to exploit those skills. We saw Garmin do this with Christian Vandevelde as well. But unfortunately for him, a season full of injuries kept him from fulfilling his goals at this year's Tour.

Now that Wiggins has chosen to leave the very team that catapulted him to Tour contender, his variables have changed. Granted, Team Sky has signed a bunch of outstanding cyclists but it's still a new team. A new team with 1000 times more pressure than any other team. Will Wiggins be able to handle this pressure?

I can think of 2 cyclists who's careers have been similar to Wiggin's current situation. One rider is Italian Damiano Cunego (Lampre) and the other is Basque rider Iban Mayo (previously of Euskatel-Euskadi). Cunego burst onto the scene by winning the 2004 Giro d'Italia at the bright-eyed age of 22. But while he still continues to enjoy a very successful career, he was never able to duplicate his success in grand tours since the 2004 Giro. In fact, his Tour de France experiences have been dismal at best. But he's realized (recently) that he is a much better one-day rider and has excelled and is now considered one the best classics riders of our time.

Cunego winning Stage 18 Credit: Olympia Photo

Iban Mayo had all of the potential for becoming a Tour de France star. He was from the cycling crazy Basque region of Spain and had successes early in his career that showed he had great potential. Besides, he was the rider who gave Lance Armstrong a beating at the 2004 Dauphiné Libéré. The 2004 season was to be the season of Iban Mayo. He came out of the 2003 season as the winner of the L'Alpe d'Huez stage of the Tour de France while finishing a very respectable 6th overall and looked to cement his place as one of the contenders for the 2004 Tour. He confirmed his place when he beat Armstrong by almost 2 minutes up the time trial of Mount Ventoux and for the overall of the Dauphiné to set up a show down in July. But then came Stage 3 of the Tour. In a scenerio that proves to everyone that a strong team is necessary to win the Tour, Mayo lost almost 4 minutes to Armstrong and the other favorites when he crashed just before a section of cobbles. His team was not strong enough to bring him back. Demoralized, Mayo struggled through much of the Pyrenees, even close to abandonment on Stage 13, before dropping out before Stage 15. He was never really the same rider that dominated the 2004 Dauphiné again.

Mayo powers up to victory. Credit: AFP

Damiano Cunego and Iban Mayo are just 2 cyclists in recent history to have not had consistent results at the Tour after achieving breakthrough results previously. Will Bradley Wiggins join this group? The recent news coverage for Wiggins suggests that there will be mounting pressure on him to perform. I personally think all of this publicity is blown out of proportion for someone that "might" be on the podium at the Tour. To me, he has not proven anything but that he had a great 2009 season. What makes a great cyclist is someone that can be successful consistently. Until Wiggins proves that last year wasn't a fluke, he doesn't deserve any more headlines in the news.

What do you think?

Tour contender or wannabe? Credit © Pinarello

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Comment from: Chris Earley [Visitor]
Chris Earley
5 stars

Isn’t Wiggins riding for Garmin at this year’s Tour? Team Sky blows…

07/17/10 @ 08:46
Comment from: [Member]
Jack
5 stars

Nope, he’s w/ Sky this year. He left Garmin saying he wanted to be in the big leagues. Obviously he’s a one hit wonder.

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