Bradley Wiggins: My team is detached from the negativity in cycling

Team Wiggins had their 2018 season launch party in London earlier this week, revealing a new kit from British clothing brand Le Col and formally presenting a youthful squad for their fourth season at the Continental level.

On stage initially and then in a huddle with a small group of journalists, Bradley Wiggins discussed his team's plans extensively for the upcoming season, how they will be focusing on developing youth, creating future Tour de France riders and bringing the sport back to its roots of accessibility for fans.

The 2012 Tour de France winner also discussed the need to bring back characters in the sport, how there are too many big egos running teams at the top and that he will have his say on the controversy surrounding Team Sky and the 'jiffy bag' scandal "very soon".

For 2018 the focus is entirely on nurturing the team's U23 talent.

"Every year [the team] gets a little bit bigger, we get to define more of what we're about," Wiggins said. "This is probably the biggest year for the team and what we're trying to do. Things have changed quite a bit, we've got rid of some of the deadwood from the team - my mates basically, to keep them on the gravy train, one of them didn't even race for us - but it's clear now what we're about.

"We have some of the best U23 riders in the country, who will no doubt go on to Tour de France success or big teams. We're giving them a platform to develop, go to the big races with the likes of Simon Cope and Chris Lillywhite and they can hopefully go on to be professionals."

Despite early success in the World Championships, Olympics and Commonwealth Games on the track, Wiggins' route to the professional road peloton began in mainland Europe with stints at the traditional French teams Francaise des Jeux and Crédit Agricole, where he made his break into the ProTour.

Combining his early track success with a road career is something Wiggins replicated after leaving Team Sky at the latter end of his career.

Cameo appearances at races such as the Dubai Tour and the Tour of Britain in 2016 were combined with winning Olympic Gold in the Team Pursuit at the Rio Olympics, and the main reason the team was initially set up.

Signing youth and talent

While this decision to combine disciplines was successful in achieving Olympic gold, by-products of the project included the likes of Owain Doull, Jon Dibben and Chris Lawless ultimately signing for Team Sky.

"When we set this team up, it was to facilitate me being on the track program and to go to the Olympics," Wiggins said. "Through that, we had the likes of Chris Lawless, Owain Doull on the team. In some ways they defined what the team was about because they were winning races, they were getting picked up by professional teams or being spoken about by professional teams, and we thought, 'This is our calling card, let's do this'.

"We don't want to be in the Tour de France, most of these teams come along all fancy, get a nice bus and say our goal is to get to the Tour de France in five years. That isn't our goal. We don't want to go anywhere near the Tour de France.

"We would rather see guys go on and realize their full potential, do it in a way they're supported 100 per cent with fantastic equipment and great kit. Le Col has come on board with the team this year, Pinarello and Zipp have been with us from the start, and Lululemon has come on as the casual kit suppliers."

Despite creating new partnerships and getting new sponsors on board, instead of progressing up the ranks to the WorldTour, the goal of Team Wiggins is clearly to focus on developing youth.

Teams come and go in the Pro Continental ranks each season with the promise of Grand Tour racing. In time, however, budgets frequently overrun, funding becomes scarce and ultimately teams collapse, leaving empty promises and riders scrambling for late contracts or leaving the sport altogether.

Wiggins hopes to address this short-sightedness with the hopes of longevity in a team with a smaller budget, and the defined different objectives.

"So much has changed in cycling in the last 20 years," he said. "Teams like this, nobody else is doing it other than Axel Merckx [manager of US Pro Continental team Hagens Berman Axeon], really. Everyone wants to win the Tour de France or have delusions of grandeur a little bit, based on the money they've got or riders they've got. This is a little bit different, and I like to be a little bit different."

As well as Doull, Dibben and Lawless, James Knox (Quick-Step Floors) and Scott Davies (Dimension Data) have also made the step to the WorldTour after a period at Team Wiggins.

"[Doull] should have stayed with us, really, because it's like he's gone backwards a little bit. These guys here, we're not going to make them, they've all already got the ingredients to do it, and the likes of Tom [Pidcock] is already a world champion, we've just got to support them.

"They'll do it themselves if you put in the right support and structure. If you have the right support structure and the right mentality - it's not about pressuring them and shouting at riders, turning up at races being all serious.

"It's about being relaxed and having fun. Having fun doesn't mean going out and getting pissed and rolling in at 5 in the morning and then go race and see how you get on though, I mean doing everything possible, being professional.

"We're just being more relaxed about it and setting that tone because a happy rider will always get results. I've been in teams in the Tour de France where everyone's miserable, and no one wants to race for each other. It's trying to create a good atmosphere amongst the team where everyone's happy and relaxed, and from that you get results."

Team Wiggins had a bit of a coup in the off-season with the signing of Tom Pidcock, who won junior rainbow stripes in Bergen and the Junior Paris-Roubaix, along with the British, European and World junior cyclo-cross titles. Wiggins didn't hold back in his guidance for the teenager.

"He's obviously got it, whatever it is. Don't go to Sky in the future, go somewhere else because they'll ruin you.

"The first time I saw him was at the Tour series last year on television, and he just decimated the field," Wiggins said. "We've also got a couple of other guys, Gabriel Cullaigh, who I think is a huge talent. He kind of resisted us at first, and went off to Holland for a year and has come back and I'm looking forward to seeing what he can do. Joey Walker, who has spent a year with us and really made some progress in the last year.

"Every year I have a rider that I bring along. Last year I had some dodgy Italian who didn't work out very well for me, so he's gone. But this year I brought Jesse Yates [son of Sean Yates - ed.] who spent a year riding away in France, crashing, living in a shit hole like most of them do, but he's come on, got good support, and we'll be seeing more of him.

"This is the best team we've had over the last 3-4 years; I'm just looking forward to seeing what they can do this year."

Detaching the team from any negativity

Chris Froome's Adverse Analytical Finding (AAF) for twice the permitted allowance of salbutamol during last year's Vuelta a España brings back memories of the relatively recent negative history of the sport, but Wiggins disputes that any of this affects his Continental squad.

"In some ways, we are detached from it because we're not a professional team, I like the U23s because it's free of all that. The talk is all about the racing and these guys going on to bigger and better things; it's all very aspirational.

"In the pro teams, everyone's already made it, and there's politics. This takes me back to when I was a junior and thinking about who I was going to sign with; I like that youthfulness about it."

The WADA leaks from the Russian hacking group, Fancy Bears in September 2016, embroiled Wiggins in a scandal highlighting the use of Therapeutic Use Exemptions (TUEs) during some of Wiggins' biggest races while at Team Sky.

The incident was later compounded by the infamous 'jiffy bag' allegations at the Criterium du Dauphine in 2011, and culminated in a UK Parliamentary Select Committee hearing with members of British Cycling and Team Sky.

The combination of these incidents involving Wiggins, combined with Froome's AAF has created a sense of negativity in cycling in recent months, with Wiggins ending the evening stating, "I'm going to have my say on that very soon."

Breaking down barriers

Wiggins has an old-school persona about him, with Tom Simpson, Bernard Hinault and Eddy Merckx amongst his heroes. Wiggins' old-school mentality runs back to the accessibility to cycling fans in times gone by, something he wants to bring back.

"This is not just about a racing team; it's about engaging with the public. I've always said we're the people's team - we don't want to be hidden behind black screens at the start and in big buses, not talking to anyone or having a big PR team spouting rubbish at you every day.

"It's about engaging with people, talking to people and a presentation like this - there's no segregation. We want to be a bit different to everyone else and try to break down barriers a little bit.

"This sport is becoming too serious. Everything's about results and power meters and skinsuits and aero helmets. I want to take it back to what cycling used to be about when Hinault and that got changed in the back of a car; you could go up to the riders and talk to them. You can't get near them anymore because of how popular they are.

"I'm very nostalgic, and I always hold onto why I got into something, but it's so far removed from that now. It's a shame, but I've got the opportunity to do something about that, make it fun again, interesting and engaging with people, which is what I think the sport is lacking at the moment.

"Everyone's got an opinion but nobody actually wants to do anything about it, the next step for us it to actually have a women's team, which is high on the agenda, we just need a bit more money."

The team is transparent about already looking for funding for the 2019 season. Finding further funding to continue developing youth riders, in conjunction with a women's team, is something Wiggins feels passionately about and will work to achieve.

EF Education First-Drapac set an example of how fragile funding is at the WorldTour, with IAM Cycling and Tinkoff further showcasing the vulnerability at the end of the 2016 season. Focusing on a smaller project is something Wiggins hopes will add more longevity to his team.

"From a financial perspective [it definitely will add longevity]. What it costs to run a WorldTour team is a vast difference," he said.

"Once you get into the WorldTour you have that pressure of finding the next £6 million sponsor every year, whereas with this you're talking a seven hundred thousand pound budget for the team. To pull that together is a lot easier than a WorldTour team."

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