Rolf Aldag, the Columbia-HTC manager, has responded to Olympic champion Bradley Wiggins's criticisms with some sharp comments of his own. The Englishman claimed this week that he found "the vibe in the team very artificial," and feared that Columbia was "becoming the Cav show."
Wiggins rode for Columbia in 2008 before leaving for Garmin-Slipstream and emerging in this Tour de France as a possible overall contender. Speaking on Monday's rest day, however, he was less than complimentary about the regimented structure at Columbia, comparing it unfavourably with the more relaxed regime at Garmin.
"Yeah, it is like that," said Columbia-HTC manager Aldag to the charge that there is a strong emphasis on discipline at Columbia, "but we're not here to have fun – we're here to have success and have fun. It's professional sport and I don't think you'd find big sponsorships if you just hang out with a bunch of friends.
"I think we have had 55 wins this year, so I think it's crystal clear [our approach] works," continued Aldag. "We have expectations – for example, on ethics, our code of conduct in the [riders'] contract is two times longer than for others. We are strict, we are hard, but we learned our lessons from history."
The history in question being that of the team, which evolved from the German T-Mobile team, of which Aldag was a long-serving member. It has since been claimed that a culture of doping existed within the team. Aldag himself admitting to having used EPO.
"We have a structure, but I don't think you can make friends with the riders and agree on everything," added Aldag. "I do believe the best way to have fun on the team is to have success, rather than talking yourself into it, saying, ‘what a great team of losers we are!'"
On Wiggins, though, Aldag insisted there are no hard feelings, and said that he is not surprised to see him challenging at the business end of the race. "Bradley is doing a brilliant race.
"[Last year] he had a different focus. He was focused on the Olympics [in which he won two gold medals] and we gave him all the freedom to do so. We had a race schedule with him and he came back about five times and wanted to change it. That was fine.
"I saw the big potential in him, we saw his SRM files," continued Aldag. "It's not a big surprise he's doing so well here. We have his files from the  Giro team time trial and the wattage he posted there, it's incredible. He was incredibly strong. You see that number, you see he's tall and skinny, and he loses six more kilograms… it's just a question of his ambition.
"I respect Garmin," added Aldag. "There are riders there who wouldn't fit into our team, and the other way around. I think Bradley was maybe pissed at Cav's comments [when Mark Cavendish criticised Garmin at this year's Giro for, in his opinion, placing too much emphasis on the team time trial], but there's good competition between us. There's no drama, no bad feelings at all."
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Richard Moore is a freelance journalist and author. His first book, In Search of Robert Millar (HarperSport), won Best Biography at the 2008 British Sports Book Awards. His second book, Heroes, Villains & Velodromes (HarperSport), was long-listed for the 2008 William Hill Sports Book of the Year.
He writes on sport, specialising in cycling, and is a regular contributor to Cyclingnews, the Guardian, skyports.com, the Scotsman and Procycling magazine.
He is also a former racing cyclist who represented Scotland at the 1998 Commonwealth Games and Great Britain at the 1998 Tour de Langkawi
His next book, Slaying the Badger: LeMond, Hinault and the Greatest Ever Tour de France, will be published by Yellow Jersey in May 2011.
Another book, Sky’s the Limit: British Cycling’s Quest to Conquer the Tour de France, will also be published by HarperSport in June 2011.
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