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Conflict avoidance at Team Sky

By:
Robert Millar
Published:
January 27, 2014, 9:52 GMT,
Updated:
January 27, 2014, 9:03 GMT
Race:
Tour de France

Why Wiggins-Froome need not be another Hinault-LeMond

Wiggins flanked by Chris Froome

Wiggins flanked by Chris Froome

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I see the Tour de France silly season has started early this year and whatever the solution is going to be for the Wiggins and Froome affair, it looks like Sky public relations are going to be having a few headaches along the way to the Grand Départ in Yorkshire.

Despite the public reassurances that Chris and Sir Brad have sorted out their differences, there's still the lingering smell that in private it's not all brothers in arms. When they line up together at Tirreno-Adriatico, it will be the first time they’ve raced together in a Sky jersey for over a year. Says it all really. Conflict avoidance, I think it's called, and while there'll be theories and sides to take, it all boils down to two simple questions and two simple answers.

Did Bradley Wiggins need Chris Froome to win his Tour de France? Yes.

Did Chris Froome need Bradley Wiggins to win his Tour de France? No.

Competition conclusions can be brutal like that. Ignore the commercial interests – of which there are many – but this isn't another Hinault-LeMond or Roche-Visentini. It hasn't gone as far as either of those cases yet.

I was privileged enough to see both of those battles live and though similar at heart, the tactics were subtly different. In 86, Hinault's payback for LeMond's restraint of the previous year wasn't the help he claimed he would give. Instead, he tried to ride Greg off his wheel and when he attacked to supposedly wear out the rivals, he was also attacking his teammate. If LeMond hadn't been able to ride up to the narky Frenchman, then Hinault would never have waited. One thing that did work in Hinault's favour was the charm offensive of his last year and his final Tour. The public loved it and bought the story that he was testing the young heir to his throne, while the rest of us saw the competitor willing to do the unthinkable to his own teammate. I suppose we were used to the aggression, being the rivals, but to Greg it was a nasty shock and a hard lesson.

The Giro of 87 and Roche versus Visentini was a more apparent betrayal, when the Irishman did that unforgivable thing by attacking his team leader, who was also – even worse – the race leader and defending champion. No ifs or buts, any moment of weakness and Visentini got worked over. Stephen had a habit of causing mayhem in his teams and Carrera was no exception. Italian hero in the Giro, home town boy leading the race – it wasn't a concern and if he had to attack his own team in order to win the race, then that was what he had to do. No matter that Carrera ended up split into two camps, he dealt with that later.

I get the feeling that Dave Brailsford is hoping to avoid either of the above scenarios by laying down the rules to his children before any conflict happens. Whether he pulls that off depends largely on the ambitions and ego of Bradley Wiggins.

TdF champions by their very nature aren't born teammates, they are winners and I'm struggling to think of a time when one has graciously given up his chance in order to let another take the glory, especially when they don't like each other, but riding as support will place Wiggins in that position.

And it's not as if Froome has to compromise this time around. He's already done his bit for the team, and for Wiggins, at the 2011 Vuelta and, more controversially, at the 2012 Tour. He's had to learn the difference between self-control and self-discipline, even though blatantly not best pleased with the taste it leaves behind.

Wiggins has that lesson to come and if he wants to be on the Sky Tour team with Chris Froome, he has no choice but to do as instructed. At the few races where they race together, he has the chance to prove that he can be part of the essential team, along with Richie Port, but if he can't, or won't, then no amount of fines or threats from Dave Brailsford will change anything. Even Hinault managed to smile during his last year, so it's not an impossible task, and that might be the clue BW needs to take in.

One thing is clear – no last Tour outing for Britain's best-known cyclist would be a massive disappointment for Sky, for ASO, for Yorkshire, the cycling public and for the Sir Bradley Wiggins camp.
 

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Author
Robert Millar

Robert Millar was one of the last pure climbers of the Tour de France, winning several stages in the mountain stages and finishing fourth overall in 1984. He is also the only English speaker to have ever won the prestigious polka-dot jersey climber's competition jersey. Millar retired in 1995 but has continued to follow the sport closely. He was often critical of the media and quickly cuts through the excuses and spin to understand why and how riders win and lose.

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