Bradley Wiggins and Mark Cavendish couldn’t have appeared more loved up as they piggybacked and hugged each other in celebration of an electric Madison victory at a home World Championships in March. Their relationship has been a complex one, spanning many years, highs, and lows, but after the London love-in there has been glimpse of the rifts of old on the eve of the track cycling events at the Olympic Games in Rio.
Acting British Cycling boss Andy Harrison has stepped in to play down the headlines and suggestions of tension between the pair after Cavendish hinted in a Sky Sports interview that Wiggins pushed him out of Britain’s team pursuit plans.
“Brad has been super stressed – he wants to be the hero and all that. I’m kind of just doing the Omnium stuff now I think,” said the Manxman, whose selection for the multi-discipline event automatically made him fifth man in the team pursuit.
However, he made it pretty clear in the interview that he’ll only be called upon if something unforeseen like injury or illness befalls one of the first-choice quartet of Wiggins, Ed Clancy, Owain Doull, and Steven Burke. And it seems that Wiggins had a part to play in keeping it that way.
The 36-year-old, a seven-time Olympic medallist, has made the team pursuit his sole focus for well over a year now, even forming a Continental road team as a training tool. The other riders, too, have been squarely focused on the event and have trained together extensively, while Cavendish has been fitting his track comeback around his commitments on the road – notably at the Tour de France as recently as last month.
He revealed that the only reason he bailed out of the Tour on the second rest-day, having been on a spectacular roll with four stage wins, was with the team pursuit in mind. The Omnium remains his priority but he described it as “a little bit” of a disappointment to find himself as something of an outsider in terms of the team pursuit, which might have represented his best chance of getting his hands on that elusive Olympic medal via a ride in one of the qualifying rounds.
“There are no issues. There’s no needle at all,” Harrison told the Press Association on Wednesday as the track programme prepares to get underway in Rio.
“For the last two or three weeks Brad and Cav have been very much in close proximity with each other, they roomed together in Newport [at a training camp] for two weeks, they’ve sat next to each other at training over the last couple of days, and observing them in the village there are no issues."
The victory in London seemed to finally right the wrong of Beijing 2008, where the pair flopped in the Madison and Cavendish questioned Wiggins’ commitment as he suffered the ignominy of being the only member of the GB track squad to leave China without a medal. Since then they came together for Cavendish to become world champion in Copenhagen in 2011, and Wiggins memorably led Cavendish out for a fifth Champs Elysées victory in 2012 – though that was a Tour where the Manxman found precious little room in a rigidly Wiggins-oriented Sky set-up.
“These are two of the greatest riders Britain has ever produced and they’ve both got big personalities," said Harrison, playing down the latest speculated twist in the soap opera. "To be honest, I’m more interested in what they do on the bike rather than what they say in public."