Bradley Wiggins has said that he still has “unfinished business” with the Tour de France but reiterated that he is happy to play a supporting role for defending champion Chris Froome in the Sky team at this year’s race.
Wiggins, who won the Tour in 2012, missed last year’s race due to an injury sustained during his unsuccessful bid to add the Giro d’Italia to his palmarès. The Englishman has accepted that Froome has since overtaken him the Sky hierarchy, but he remains determined to perform well in July and enjoy the Grand Départ on home roads in Leeds.
"Froome's got the mantle [of leadership] now which is good but I've still got unfinished business with the Tour," Wiggins told The Independent. "I want to do something else at the Tour, whether it's a great ride for Chris or the chance to win another time trial there. With it starting in the UK, too, it's going to be a celebration of where British cycling has come from and I want to be part of that."
Although they endured an uneasy coexistence in the Sky team at the 2012 Tour – Wiggins allegedly threatened to leave the race when Froome briefly dropped him at La Toussuire, and took over a year to pay Froome his share of the prize money – Wiggins maintains that he can perform an important role in Froome’s Tour defence this summer.
"In the case of the Tour, I see myself in that train with Richie [Porte] and whoever else it is, being one of the last guys there and to be there when it matters. There were a couple of times last year when Chris was really isolated and I want to be in a position that I can be there when that happens," Wiggins said.
Nonetheless, Wiggins acknowledged that he will have to earn selection with his performances on the road between now and July, given the strength in depth at Team Sky.
"You can't underestimate how good you have to be to do that job as well, it's not something I'm taking for granted," he said. "To do myself justice and the team and Chris justice, as an ex-winner of the race, it's not about making up the numbers and giving a few pulls here and there.”
Wiggins admitted that he was glad that he no longer had to carry the burden of being the defending Tour de France champion, and suggested that he had struggled with the responsibility to be something of a spokesman for the sport in the wake of USADA’s Reasoned Decision on the Lance Armstrong case.
"I wasn't handling being Tour champion very well. All that Lance stuff had kicked off and I didn't want to be in that position. It's just different now,” he said. "It's really liberating not being in the position of constantly being asked 'can you win the Tour?'"
Having faced questions about his own performance in 2012, Wiggins could empathise with the position in which Froome found himself at last year’s Tour, where his victory was met with a certain degree of suspicion.
"He got so much crap. His performances were so dominant but they were also genuine. I know everyone says that we were all lied to by Lance but the testing wasn't as scrupulous back then. You'd have to be mad to do it [dope] in this day and age, maybe a bit psychopathic," Wiggins said.
"That's the stage cycling is in at the moment and I don't know if the cynicism and suspicion is going to get worse. Maybe for the next few years that is what we have to expect."
Wiggins also expressed his hope that Team Sky might soon be in a position to roll out a women’s team, describing it as "the next logical step." He warned, however, that introducing a team with a huge budget to the women’s peloton could affect the competition.
"I think the only danger with it is that they become this incredibly super squad, with a great budget and great riders and then you've got the worst women's team on the circuit too and the void is huge... it becomes a financial competition rather than an athletic one," he said.
Wiggins himself is already a backer of the Wiggle-Honda women’s team, and he said that not enough has been done to support women’s cycling in the two years since the London 2012 Olympics. However, he welcomed the recent announcement of a women’s race, La Course, on the Champs-Élysées to coincide with the final day of the Tour de France.
"There's been a lot of talk about that since the Olympics, but two years have gone by and I don't think we're any further forward in terms of a few people saying a few things," he said. "There have been a few teams doing a great job, but this [La Course] is the first thing of note of somebody big putting their money where their mouth is."