The Brad Wiggins Bubble

Dec 17 2009

winginsA week has passed since the worst-kept-secret in cycling officially became a done deal. It’s been spun, analyzed, broken-down and overblown in all ways imaginable, but from my point of view, Toto’s cheekily delivered analysis hits closest to the mark—Brad Wiggins was “flipped”.

After the 2008 season, Wiggins was an also-ran in the world of professional cycling; a talented trackie who’d always planned to pick it up on the road, but couldn’t seem to deliver. Even as an obvious favorite in the short TT, Wiggins seldom came through, picking up a single ProTour win: the ’07 Dauphine prologue. Despite a fistful of gold medals on the track, his stock was understandably low.

It’s not that Wiggins ever lacked the ability to do what he did at the ’09 Tour—it’s that the market hadn’t recognized it yet. The impact of the Garmin-Slipstream refurb was evident at the Giro, and his 4th place finish in the Tour made him one of the most sought after riders in the peloton, culminating in a jump to Team Sky for a rumored $8 million—a textbook flip. And like so many flipped properties, it’s my contention that the final terms of sale were massively inflated.

Nothing against Wiggins, but in recent history, the Tour de France is not a race you “almost” win. Breakthrough Tour rides are almost always one-shot deals. Soler, Kohl, Sevilla, Julich—all were tabbed as potential winners based on sudden, notable rides before fading (under varying circumstances and to various degrees) in subsequent years.

induEven riders who’ve steadily climbed the result sheet (Evans, Menchov, Karpets, Leipheimer) seldom take home the giant stuffed teddy bear at cycling’s biggest ring toss. Even Carlos Sastre’s and Oscar Pereiro’s victories can be credited more to the absence of stronger contenders than their own personal performance.

The pattern for Tour dominance since 1990 is clear—a rider leaps to the top after taking up a GC focus, and enjoys years of success before a sudden denouement. Indurain never finished between 10th and first at the Tour. Armstrong had never lost a single post-cancer Tour, but finished more than five minutes off the top step in ’09. Indeed, Contador—something of a surprise in 2007—seems to have established himself as the next Tour great with the performance of this past summer.

But even if Sky had truly considered the odds against Wiggins’ repeating his ’09 success in the future, I still can’t imagine they could have let him be. One needed only hear the swooning adulations of David Harmon on Stage 17— crediting the erstwhile Garmin rider with a “brave” ride, even as he was swept off the podium and out of the Top 5—to understand the passions Wiggins has stirred up the world of British cycling.

For Team Sky, the title of biggest British squad in the history of the sport would be all but meaningless without the biggest British Tour threat since Tom Simpson on the roster. The legions of American fans who awkwardly pulled for Lance, Levi, and Horner on a Kazakh-owned franchise last season should have no difficulty appreciating that sentiment.

I like Brad Wiggins, and I wish him the best of luck over these next four years. But if 2009 was the year that introduced cycling to big-ticket deals, I’ve a sinking feeling that 2010 will be the year it’s introduced to buyer’s remorse.

(report this ad)

10 Responses to “The Brad Wiggins Bubble”

  1. Lagazzettadellabici December 17, 2009 at 6:29 pm #

    Of all the CRITIQUES of Bradley Wiggins I have heard since his move to SKY. It is the voice of American commentators that I find get his appeal and ability so wrong. I’m really trying to pinpoint exactly what it is but I really think its got something to do with the American psyche finding it difficult to understand anything that has more than 1 dimension. It is easy to see why Lance Armstrong is so popular in the US.

  2. natalie December 17, 2009 at 6:36 pm #

    I agree that it was important that they acquired the current biggest British name that they could (Cav excepted and he’s not a GC boy). Although it went ridiculous in true football transfer style, it did get a heck of a lot of press (for good or for bad) and is definitely punting the name and the team out there, and to an extent beyond the core cycling fanbase.

    I think it is perfectly possible that Bradley could under-perform, and indeed highly possible that the team as a whole could be very underwhelming initially. However, that said, I am intrigued – and yeah, excited – about seeing a financially huge and mentally amibitious new team dive into things and seeing what happens.
    I’m looking forward to that irrespective of how Wiggins does. His personal relationship with Dave Brailsford can’t be under-estimated though so you never know, they’ll definitely work hard at it and as I say, I’m definitely interested in seeing how it works out for all of them next year and in the long-term.

  3. Sebastian December 17, 2009 at 7:21 pm #

    Actually, the post-1990 pattern of single-rider dominance you note arguably goes back all the way to the 1950s. The Tour is so hard and leaves so little to chance that inevitably, given a consistent field over a number of years, the same rider will always rise to the top (barring injury). Every decade since the ’50s has produced a five-time winner: Anquetil in the ’60s, Merckx in the ’70s, Hinault in the ’80s, Indurain in the ’90s, and Armstrong in the ’00s. What’s more, use your Way-Back Machine to conveniently remove them, and you arguably would see Poulidor, Zootemelk, and Ullrich establish extended streaks. And who knows how many more Tours Coppi, Bartali, Hinault and Lemond might have won had not injury taken top years away from them.

    (Incidentally, this is why I love the classics: in a one-day race, luck, chance and sheer cunning can beat superior talent.)

    Anyway, I was happy to see Wiggins take a step up this year — the British like the Australians, deserve to produce a great all-around, non-track rider — and I was hoping that Wiggins would settle down to a quite winter and start methodically building on his 2009 accomplishments. Who knows, maybe that’s what he’s doing, but in the meantime he’s also serving himself up to certain snide elements in the fanbase, much like Simoni did years ago, who will be thirsty to see him crash and burn in 2010.

  4. cosmo December 18, 2009 at 12:17 pm #

    @lambsimon, I wouldn’t say I’m particularly “critical” of the Wiggins transfer. It works out well for everyone—Garmin gets some roster space & cash, Brad gets a big salary and the team he wants, and Sky gets exposure and a great rider. I’m not sure exactly how I was “one-dimensional”.

    @natalie, I’m looking forward to seeing Wiggins at the ’10 Tour as well, especially since it looks like he’ll have the full backing of Sky. Remember that in ’09, he was a co-leader until well into the race, and Garmin was pursuing lots of other options (Farrar’s sprints, Millar’s late move into Barcelona). That said, I don’t think history is on his side.

    @Sebatian, I did want to extend my timeline a little further back, but Greg Lemond (who progressed from 3rd, to 2nd, to 1st in consecutive years) messed it up. That also raises the thorny question of whether Hinault was really the dominant Tour rider in the 80s. The results are certainly in his favor, but he was defeated soundly by Fignon in ’84, and may or may not have pinched one from Lemond’s column in ’85.

    Of course, one could just as easily argue that injury cost Hinault ’80 and ’83, and as you’ve said in the past, I assail the Badger’s legacy at my own risk.

  5. Sebastian December 18, 2009 at 1:32 pm #

    As far as I can tell, Hinault’s 1985 win was only ever in doubt because of his crash at St. Etienne. Without that, the question of whether he was actually stronger than Lemond would probably never have come up. That said, I think it’s also a moot point in discussions of his dominance, since all signs suggest that (had his knee been kinder to him) he would have had a solid 78-83 streak.

  6. Frankielof December 19, 2009 at 4:08 pm #

    Cosmo, I think you hit it in the body of your original post and I’m not too happy to admit it, but Contador is head and shoulders above all other Grand Tour riders at this point in time. He is also one of the strongest in 1 week races too. One might suggest that his team is much weaker than last year, but when you factor in that he may have had only one or two real domestiques last year and had to battle Lance’s mind games internally, he is one strong SOB. I generally like Wiggins and I hope that he can do something next year, but baring crash or injury all others are riding for the second and third step of the podium come July.

    Team SKY might believe that they have their TdF winner already, but I’d hate to say that they are saddly mistaken.

  7. Dan December 21, 2009 at 10:55 am #

    In reference to history, the deck is stacked against wiggins, and its not that I am american and cannot tolerate brits or europe. I actually love euro pros and cut my teeth with them. Nonetheless, here are some harsh things to think about. Can a first go around team, piled this high with talent be managed by wiggins as leader/GCr, when there are several who can go hard and win stages all by themselves? Can he contain that and harness it? Second, that he podiumed as an unmarked man in the TdF is not remarkable, and just as cosmos said, and as i have always looked at it, its when a KNOWN GCr comes in and rides to the podium, marked by the peloton…that is remarkable. look at his coaching, he is leaving it, look at his team, VDV pulled him late in the tour w/a broken back in recuperation (who top ten’d) and he is leaving quite a many ‘knowns’. Not really smart in many ways. Brilliant if he pulls it off.

    Now, whatever, really, because in July with the expectations team SKY has built up, anything less than a win will be disappointing, and that is too bad for Wiggins. I like him, he has tremendous power, made a tremendous transition to the road, its a big leap to make in the time he has.

  8. Adam June 10, 2010 at 12:32 am #

    #6 – Team Sky have their TDF winner already, except that he’s not british

    his name: Edvald Boasson Hagen

Trackbacks and Pingbacks

  1. Cyclocosm – Pro Cycling Blog » The International Advantage - October 19, 2011

    [...] squads extend the performance gap. While Team Sky, the first major British outfit in a generation, overspent badly to bring in a home-grown Tour contender, they had the good sense to hedge the bet by placing him [...]

  2. Just in case you were curious. And yes, it is better than this one. Not just because it’s not on Tumblr, either. | Create Awesome - December 19, 2011

    [...] Yeah, I do have a better blog This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged blog, cycling, cyclocosm, internet, tumblr, wordpress, writing by admin. Bookmark the permalink. [...]

Leave a Reply