The Wiggins Situation

Bryn Lennon

When is the last time a Tour de France champion retrained his focus on the Giro instead?

Fascinating interview with 2012 Tour de France champion Bradley Wiggins in Cyclingnews today. Wiggins reiterates his intention to forego concentrating on the Tour and pursue the maglia rosa instead, in typically Wigginsian fashion, which is to say surprising, interesting, maybe even a little odd. I don't want to lift too many words from this fine article, so I'll just point out a few basic things:

  • He's really, really sure about this, not because of anything wrong with the Tour but because he loves new challenges, or not doing the same thing over and over.
  • He harbors some real appreciation for the Giro, dating back to early times, when he watched... wait for it... Andy Hampsten in the snow. I think he even mentioned how Hampsten won the stage that day.
  • And then, because he's Wiggins and nothing can be all good, there's this: "It's the only race in cycling where they never really mention doping in the whole race." Wait, what? This is a good thing?

I don't want to unpack that last statement too much, because I'm a little sick of every conversation ending in speculation about who's doing what, but I've followed the NFL long enough to know that lack of attention to the problem is not the same as things being hunky-dory.

Anyway, the truly interesting aspect of this is the unprecedented nature of a Tour winner switching back to the Giro for fun. I shouldn't say unprecedented; in 2008 Alberto Contador switched to the Giro -- supposedly off the beach -- when his Astana team was denied entry to the Tour in a surprising swipe by ASO at the Bruyneel regime... one that looks pretty smart in hindsight.

Going back further, history is full of Tour winners going to the Giro. They fall into a few categories:

  • In ancient times, riders who rode/won the Giro because there was no such thing as skipping a big race.
  • In more recent times, Tour winners have occasionally gone to Italy in May to get some major race miles in their legs. For the Tour.
  • And then there are the Italians. Marco Pantani is the last Italian winner (cough) in 1998, and of course he went to the Giro the next spring. From which point his life disintegrated.
  • Great champions have also gone to the Giro to revive their careers. One that comes to mind is Laurent Fignon, Giro winner in 1987, but three years (and two full season) removed from his last Tour triumph.

I really do believe Wiggins is the first Tour de France champion in the modern (re: don't assume I'm racing hard at the Giro) era to simply say, I'd rather go and win the Giro now. Granted, Wiggins isn't a patron of the sport just yet, not on the basis of a single maillot jaune, but it's still a very big deal for the Giro d'Italia for Wiggins to say this and act on it. Combined with Robert Gesink making similar noises about going to Italy to win, Wiggins' announcement gives the Giro more cachet than it's had in years. Apart from Ryder Hesjedal's win last year, Denis Menchov's 2009 victory, and Contador's win in 2008, the Giro has remained a primarily Italian competition, and in that sense a decidedly inferior race to the Tour. With the Vuelta a Espana turning in two riveting editions, the Giro can't afford to fall behind in prominence any further. Now, we're looking at a Giro which, in terms of quality field, may give the Tour a run for its money.

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