Tour de France 2013, Take 1: Wiggo and the White Whale

I have not commented on this year’s Tour de France yet, though I have watched it with great interest.  If you want a comprehensive and perceptive stage-by-stage analysis, I suggest Matt Gilchrist’s Weblog, also linked from my Blogroll.  The rather odd field that started the race last Saturday did not include last year’s overall winner, Brad Wiggins.  He has had an up-and-down early 2013 season, set back by injuries and illnesses, but he is also contending with internal team politics and his own athletic motivation.

The internal politics at Team Sky Pro Cycling already have led to the departure of one of the best sprinters in the world, Mark Cavendish, after a one-year presence there.  The “Manx Missile” saw he never would receive full team support for his sprints as long as there is such a strong push on the team for an overall GC victory.  Reminds me a bit of earlier sprinters like Erik Zabel of the old Deutsche Telekom team, which always supported GC contender Jan Ullrich first and foremeost, or Robbie McEwen, who just never raced with a really strong sprinter-supporting team.  They proved they could win sprints anyhow, but it was not easy, an certainly not something that Cavendish’s massive ego could accept.

But there remain on Team Sky not only Wiggo but Chris Froome, who gave glimpses last year that he might be the better climber of the two (not surprising, since Wiggins began as a track racer).  An organization in any sport with two captains on the same squad is inviting divisive turmoil.  To try to avoid such chaos, this year the Team Sky game plan was to back Wiggins in the Giro d’Italia and Froome in the Tour.  But Wiggo fizzled out in Italy, and decided he didn’t even want to contest the hundredth running of the TdF.

And that’s where the athletic motivation comes into play.  Just last week on DVD I saw Wiggins being interviewed right after winning the Tour in 2012.  He said it was the thrill of a lifetime, and he’d always dreamed of winning the TdF.  He seemed very satisfied, and did not indicate that he had ambitions for multiple victories.  Then this year he announced early on that the Giro would be his principal goal, and even intimated that he’d ride a supporting role for Froome in the Tour.  Wiggins is no spring chicken, having been 32 years old last summer.  He could not realistically plan on a path of several years’ development of stage racing form up to the level of winning a string of multiple Tours.

But there’s more to it than that in my book.  Wiggo just seems to be the kind of athlete whose competitive fires don’t rage in the direction of amassing multiple achievements of the same goal.  He’s happy with his Tour victory as a one-off, not as the first step to greater glory, in contrast to others such as the mysterious ghostly “nobody” who is not in the current record books but whose golden presence certainly haunted the Champs Elysees TdF podiums from 1999 to 2005.  Wiggo’s being able to say “been there, done that” and go off into other cycling pursuits makes him more like the rest of us, pleased to have been somewhere great but kind of over it afterwards.   Leave it to the obsessive Captain Ahabs of life to pursue their mythic and alarmingly large, all consuming visions even to the edge of doom.

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2013

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