With just a handful of events remaining before he hangs up his wheels Bradley Wiggins is turning his attention to the growth of his own Continental team, with the desire is to turn the WIGGINS squad into a leading force in the development of U23 talent.
The squad was formed in 2014 as reaction to Wiggins' exclusion from Team Sky’s 2013 Tour de France line-up. Although the team lacked a clear long-term strategy in those early day it has developed into a progressive hotbed for young British talent.
Wiggins himself is set to ride the Tour of Britain next month in WIGGINS colours, with the Gent Six Day also on his programme before his expected retirement. Speaking at Rapha event in London, he told an audience of journalists and fans that his plans were to grow his team over the coming seasons.
"The future of the team is developing under 23 riders and moving them on," he said.
The WIGGINS team is very much created from the same mould as its creator. It is both reactionary and revolutionary to a perceived system of authority but also highly ambitious and determined."
"Most teams, when they start, say 'we want to be at the Tour de France in five years', and most fall by the wayside. We don't want to be at the Tour de France. I'm sick to death of the Tour de France," Wiggins added.
The main aim, therefore, is to harness young talent and bring it through to the elite ranks. Wiggins has looked at the example of Axel Merckx and the Axeon youth team in the United States as the leading lights. The North American team snapped up a number of young riders and can count Taylor Phinney, Ben King and Alex Dowsett as part of their alumni.
"Why don't we bring riders on, educate them so there's no doubt about doping, give them a good time doing it, and without all the pressure of winning races for a huge commercial company," Wiggins asked.
Although team WIGGINS team are yet to confirm rosters and setup for 2017, the ethos will be driven by their owner.
"I don't want to be like Dave B [Dave Brailsford] that's for sure," Wiggins joked.
"I'll be myself really and for me as a person, that will rub off on the team. I was always fighting at Team Sky, against the system or what I felt was the system, about key messaging and not being able to be yourself and not being able to have any personality. I just thought it was a constant battle to try and be yourself. What I want at this team is for people to be themselves and to have a personality. As long as they're nice, they don't swear and they represent what I'm about, then I'll encourage them to be themselves. That's ultimately what draws people in – not just the same old clichés about this, that and the other. We don't have any key messaging."
Rio sinking in and Cavendish
Wiggins was appearing at a Rapha event in London – in conjunction with the Cycling Podcast – just over a week after his Olympic triumph. The former Tour de France winner had been part of a four-man team that sealed gold in the team pursuit – a feat that brought Wiggins' tally of gold medals up to five.
With the pressure of competing off his shoulders the veteran athlete could talk candidly about his Latin American experience and the reports involving a fallout between himself and Mark Cavendish.
The sprinter – who won silver in the omnium – was reportedly 'frozen out' by Wiggins as part of the team pursuit squad. Cavendish did not ride a single round in the team pursuit in Rio, and so was not eligible for a gold medal, but for Wiggins that was purely a performance issue rather than a personality one. He stressed that he and Cavendish - who have had spats before – were like brothers - implying that although they may have their differences they quickly move on. The pair are set to ride together as a team in Gent Six later this year.
"The thing with Mark is that he would have loved to have ridden the semi-final but he obviously had to do the Tour de France," Wiggins said.
"There just wasn't time for him to get up to speed at 3:50 pace. How many people in the world can do that? There are four now but before the Olympics there was no one. We had to do a 3:50 in the semi just to make the final. Now if we'd just tried to accommodate him just so he could get a medal then we might not have made the final. That was the predicament we were in at Newport. There's only so many efforts you can do at 3:50 pace to see if someone is able to do it. Once the first two fell apart we couldn't just get up and do another one. We just ran out of time."
The decision to leave Cavendish to the omnium was therefore a performance one – and it was not one made by one single rider.
"We all thought that he was capable of doing it physically but just didn't have enough time. We had been working on this for 18 months – trying to go that fast – so he was disappointed naturally and I think that came across in some of the things he said."
"That's not me freezing him out by the way. If I take our relationship aside, as much as I'd love him in there with me, I have to be brutally honest about this as it's about winning. We've worked out arses off for this so are we going to just accommodate someone? That's not just me saying it, it's Ed Clancy who is a huge leader in the team but it makes more of a story if 'Brad has frozen him out'."
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