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A Load of Bull - Return of 'aLoB'
By Nick Bull
Date: 12/12/2009
A Load of Bull - Return of 'aLoB'

A Load of Bull - Return of 'aLoB'
You can never "go home", or so they say... public denial meets the return of a dream

BRADLEY WIGGINS DESCRIBED his move to the new Sky team as “coming home”, a statement more predictable than one suggesting Christmas was fast approaching. Despite his new bosses continuously denying stories that the Brit was to leave Garmin-Slipstream on a regular basis (the last public denial, notably, was back in September), Wiggins has a great working relationship with Dave Brailsford and Shane Sutton, the two men who are overseeing the building of Team Sky.

 Wiggo in green in Monaco - a portent of things to come...
Photo © 2009 Simon Alderson

For Brailsford and Sutton, this move represents a huge statement of intent too. Furthermore, a failure to sign either Wiggins or Mark Cavendish, the two leading British riders within the peloton, would have undoubtedly raised question marks from many people. With Cavendish unlikely to leave Columbia, a team that supports him 100% and also one he trusts, Wiggins was the only viable option. He is arguably the better business option, too, considering that he is known by more people in the UK than Cavendish by virtue of his Olympic accomplishments and anti-doping attitude.

At yesterday's press conference in London, Wiggins immediately declared his focus was on the 2010 Tour de France. However unwelcome the decision to scrap the individual pursuit at the next Olympic games, also announced yesterday by the IOC, this frees the twenty-nine year old to focus on his dream of being the first British rider to finish on the podium in Paris. Realistically, these next couple of years represent the best chance for achieving that. At the start line in Holland, there are five men that are beyond everyone else for the GC competition: Wiggins, Alberto Contador, the Schleck brothers and Vicenzo Nibali.

Brad Wiggins fights to regain the leaders on Ventoux to finish 10th and keep 4th place on the General Classification. Photo © 2009 Fotoreporter Sirotti

The route next year appears to be tailor-made for Contador. The Astana rider proved his star quality in all disciplines in 2009, however the internal struggles within his team have been going on longer than the time it would take me to climb the Galibier. With Bruyneel and Armstrong taking their allies to another new team, RadioShack, the double Tour de France champion could be isolated. Even so, he remains a favourite for the win and Wiggins will have to improve both his time trialing and climbing to mount a serious challenge. The Astana rider gained 44 seconds on Wiggins in the two individual time trials in 2009, and Bradley struggled to follow any big attacks in the mountains. The Brit knows this, and will be working on improving his punch on the arduous ascents.

Vicenzo Nibali's best rides in the 2009 Tour were on the stages to Le Grand Bornand and Verbiers, two of the hardest days in last year's race. At twenty-five, he is still learning how to ride three week tours, and is inferior to Wiggins against the watch. Going into the time trial at Annecy, he was just sixteen seconds behind the Brit, but trailed him in the GC by 1'39” after the 40 km ride. The 'race of truth' is also where the Schleck brothers can be beaten. And, should Andy decide to assist his brother instead of riding for himself, as was the case on the Mont Ventoux, where Alberto Contador did not seem as strong as he had been, his personal sacrifice will also result in either not gaining time on his rivals, or even conceding to them.

SHOULD WIGGINS BE riding as well as he did in 2009, then his team should be far stronger than the Garmin outfit. Having inherited the team leader role following some injuries and 'below-par' rides by Christian Vandevelde, it was only the American who was able to assist the British rider in the hills. This will hopefully be avoided in 2010, as Team Sky have signed Dario Cioni, who rode brilliantly for Cadel Evans at Silence Lotto. Upon his arrival, Brailsford commented: "Taking Dario Cioni on board means we'll have the experience of another hard-working stage-race specialist who'll be able to lead the way in the big three-week races."

The shrewdest acquisition thus far could well be that of Kurt Asle-Arvesen from Team CSC. Not only a multiple national champion and grand tour stage winner, the Norwegian has supported Ivan Basso in the 2004 and 2005 Tour, and the Schlecks for the past two years. The label of “super-domestique” can be applied to Asle-Arvesen, and his aggressive, committed style will be of benefit to Wiggins, as well as the younger British riders that Team Sky are nurturing. Just as invaluable to the project are Sylvain Calzati and Simon Gerrans, who have also won stages in the Tour, while Swede Thomas Lovkist has led the Giro and won the grueling Monte Paschi Eroica.

For a new outfit, Team Sky are assembling a very strong line-up. If Brailsford and Sutton can transfer their meticulous preparation skills that have seen them transform British track cyclists, then the future looks bright. And should Wiggins' pre-Tour training be as problem-free as it was in 2009, then the sky is the limit for him. If moving to this new team is, indeed, like coming home, nothing would delight British people more for him to bring the Tour home too.

Interview: Tour de France - Bradley Wiggins in Paris

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