Wiggins takes Tour de France prologue gamble

Bradley Wiggins (Team Sky)

Bradley Wiggins (Team Sky) (Image credit: Bettini Photo)

The start list for Saturday's prologue to the Tour de France was published on Friday afternoon, and it included a surprise.

Bradley Wiggins (Team Sky), last year's fourth-place finisher, was not listed among the final twenty riders - as is traditional for team leaders - but 41st, a full two-and-a-half hours before the defending champion and last man, Alberto Contador (Astana).

Since teams nominate the starting order for their riders - Juan Antonio Flecha will start in Wiggins's unofficially 'allotted' place, fourth from the end - it was a decision taken by Team Sky with the weather conditions in mind.

"You're never sure with the weather," said Dave Brailsford, the team principal. "And we know for a fact that Rotterdam has a unique micro climate, which is quite hard to predict - we know that from our sailing friends - but we think there's a high chance it's going to rain tomorrow."

Students of Britain's Tour de France history are familiar with what can happen when rain begins to fall mid-way through a prologue time trial. In 1995, in St Brieuc, Chris Boardman was one of the later starters, and the favourite to claim his second consecutive prologue win, when torrential rain began to fall, making conditions treacherous. Chasing the time of Jacky Durand, an early starter, Boardman crashed and broke his ankle and wrist, while Durand upset all the favourites to hold on for a surprise win.

On the untechnical Rotterdam course - Wiggins reckons there is only one corner on which he will have to brake - such a disaster is unlikely, but there is another factor in Team Sky's decision, as Brailsford explained.

"The other thing is that hot air is faster than cold air - everyone knows that. So if you've got a chance of going off at four rather than seven, when it could be five or six degrees colder, then why wouldn't you?"

Brailsford dismissed the suggestion that the atmosphere - not in a meterological sense, but in terms of the intensity of the crowd, and the presence in the warm-up area of the other big names - could affect the early-starting Wiggins.

"The good thing about Brad is that he's ridden big races in all conditions," said Brailsford. "He's ridden important Olympic and world championship qualifying rounds at eleven in the morning in empty velodromes all over the world.

"People say, 'but the big guys go at the end, will he not be more motivated then?'  Well, if you're not motivated at the start of the Tour de France, what are you doing here? You also hear people say, 'if he knows he's two seconds down, he'll try harder.' But that would mean he wasn't going at 100% in the first place.

"Brad's mentality is such that it doesn't make a difference," added Brailsford. "When he goes off he'll do what he has to do."

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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.