Sunday, March 11, 2012

Team Sky's Enviable Problem

Come June, Team Sky will have an enviable problem. That is, what will be the team's focus (or focii) come Tour de France? Will they try to support both Bradley Wiggins' GC ambition and Mark Cavendish's quest for sprinting glories?

Bradley Wiggins warming up on the track. Photo by 1hr photo,  under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

We think that there are two key points which lead to intra-team competition, and a secondary point which may lead to a compromise. This may sound ominous, but we are reminded of T-Mobile's decision to leave Erik Zabel out of their 2005 squad in order to fully support Jan Ullrich's GC quest. We know that that quest failed (again), but it is a good lesson that even the richest teams know that it is hard to have too many top goals in one grand tour unless your top rider is Eddy Merckx.

Cav's Olympic dream

The first key point is the looming London Olympics road race. A win on home soil by Cavendish will surely add to the Glory of the British Empire. Poundsterling-for-Poundsterling, it will be hard to argue for taking any decision that increases risk of Cavendish not winning in London. Cavendish has said many times that he plans to take on the entire Tour de France, even if it ends mere days prior to the Olympics race. Even if weeks prior, Wiggins had helpfully suggested that doing both events might be too much for Cav, at the time before Cav signed his contract with Sky.

We think that the weight of this expectation is what has led Wiggins to push himself even so early in the season. His winning Paris-Nice is the stuff of legend, but it is necessary to bring legitimacy to his status in the squad, and to his relationship with Cavendish.

Wiggo's career dream

This brings up the second key point, which is that four years ago in the Beijing Olympics Cav had been left dry by an overworked Wiggins, then his Madison partner, because Wiggo had put in serious turns in his individual pursuit event which ran prior to the Madison. By the way, individual pursuit had earned him gold for the second consecutive Olympic. Our second point is a question, does Wiggins himself not have Olympic goals?

Team GB national coach Brailsford - also a Team Sky manager - suggested that Wiggins would not be on the track. That means his best shot is the individual time trial. Which means that he may want to prioritize that over playing super-domestique in the road race, which would run after the time trials. And his chances for the time trial honestly isn't great. He'd have to overcome bosth Fabian Cancellara and Tony Martin. He has beaten them on occasion, but for the money few would bet on Wiggins.

To summarize, we think that first, Sky would love for Cav to win the Olympics road race. And that second, Wiggins has to have his own ambition and at this point we think that he is both keeping his cards close to his heart, and keeping his options open. Will he prefer to go for broke in the TdF? He could have a very strong squad, with Richie Porte and Chris Froome. And the course is very much tailored for a time triallist. If he shows up to the TdF handicapped, will he then bet on the Olympics ITT, and if so, will that be at the cost of TdF form and ambition? Seeing how strong and eep the ranks of team Sky is, we wonder if they should be allowed to field two teams in the TdF.

To boldly go where one had not before

Both points have a similar undertone, even it may not be the most critical factor. This brings us to the minor point that we think offer a compromise. That is, both riders are trying to accomplish what they have not done before, and at a time that they think is the most fortunate. Cavendish knows that winning one or three stages in the 2012 Tour de France won't make that much of a difference, except for what the British tabloids would play up in the run-up to the Olympics road race. But winning or losing the Olympics road race will define his career. This is a chance of a lifetime.

Similarly, with the individual pursuit off the table, we think that Wiggins' overwhelming goal is to win the Tour de France. Failing that, to finish on the bloody podium, finally. We don't think he'll bank on the team pursuit for yet another Olympic medal, not at the cost of his form for the TdF. After all, many think that this year's course is the best suited to his abilities. However, we think that he'd like to do well in the Olympics ITT no matter what, a goal that doesn't directly compete with Team GB's wish for his unconditional loyalty to Cavendish in the road race.

If we are right, then, there is space for comprimise: lion's share of support for Wiggins at the cost of limited support for Cav in the TdF, and full support for Cav's quest for Olympic glory.

How do you think Team Sky will solve their enviable problem and how will Wiggo play his cards?

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