Bradley Wiggins has questioned the credentials of Egan Bernal's leadership and overall chances of victory in the Giro d'Italia after the Ineos Grenadiers announced that the 2019 Tour de France winner would share team captaincy with Pavel Sivakov.
Wiggins, who rode for the squad during their Team Sky days, was speaking exclusively to Cyclingnews on the eve of the race, and tipped Simon Yates (Team BikeExchange) for the maglia rosa.
However, the 2012 Tour de France winner added that Bernal's persistent back injury, which ruined his Tour de France defense in 2020, and the Colombian's inconsistent form this season left the race wide open and raised debate over Ineos' confidence in Bernal's ability to get through three weeks.
"The air of invincibility around Bernal has now gone after his failure at the Tour last year due to injury," Wiggins told Cyclingnews.
"There are question marks over his form and if he’s through the period of being able to get through three weeks of racing without problems for his back."
Bernal had been expected to be announced as Ineos Grenadiers' sole leader for the race after building for the Italian Grand Tour all winter. Sivakov was originally seen as a back-up option and support rider despite his ninth place in the 2019 race, but on Tuesday Ineos announced that both riders would be protected leaders. When asked if that decision could undermine Bernal's position and create doubt over his credentials as a leader, Wiggins pointed to the team's decision not to have a plan-B in last year's Tour, and likened the current Giro situation to the way in which his leadership was replaced at Team Sky by Chris Froome.
"I think that there’s an element of that with Ineos. A year ago, would we have said that Bernal needed a joint leader. I mean, last year, we didn’t take Thomas to the Tour because they couldn’t have a joint leader, so that creates question marks over how Bernal will go in the race. Sivakov, as good as he is, and as good of a future as he has, I wouldn’t say that he’s a joint leader with someone like Bernal, who is a Tour de France winner. I think that there are question marks over his fragility and whether he can last the three weeks or not.
"I had that myself with Froome in 2013," Wiggins said when asked how he would have reacted to sharing leadership if he had been in Bernal's shoes.
"It was becoming clear that he was making bigger advances at that point, and with me dealing with the Tour success. If anything, my selection for the Giro was a demotion in that sense. There are two camps there because it became clear that Thomas could have played a bigger role to support Bernal in the Tour but they had that the year before and it was clear that those two camps don’t really work together.
"I wouldn’t say that there’s unhappiness or friction as there was with me and Froome, but there’s definitely two camps, and Thomas doesn’t want that joint leadership. It’s definitely that Thomas has taken back the GC leadership reins of that team and there are still question marks over Bernal because that invincibility from a couple of years ago isn’t there with the injuries that have shown some fragility."
Wiggins tipped Simon Yates for the overall win in the race but also highlighted a number of other key GC contenders with the race kicking off on Saturday in Turin.
"We’ve got [Remco] Evenepoel returning and Simon Yates. It’s been three years since his demise and Chris Froome won the race but you’ve also got someone like Hugh Carthy, who is looking great, and then there’s [Vincenzo] Nibali. Maybe this is his last Giro.
"But for me this is Simon Yates’ moment. He’s won the Vuelta and it’s been three years since he won that race and he dominated the Giro until Chris Froome did what he did. We could have two British riders on the podium and I think that it’s going to be great race, I really do."
With GCN+ you can watch every km of the Giro live and ad free. For more details visit https://welcome.globalcyclingnetwork.com/giro
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