x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Wiggins-Froome's cycling rivalry at Team Sky is churning out a theatre on wheels

The growing feud between Team Sky cyclists Chris Froome and Sir Bradley Wiggins is exactly what the sport needs. Just don't call it a soap opera, warns Will Batchelor. 

Sir Bradley Wiggins, left, and Chris Froome have been jostling to be the principal rider for Team Sky.
Sir Bradley Wiggins, left, and Chris Froome have been jostling to be the principal rider for Team Sky.

"We don't want it to go down the football route and become a soap opera."

- Geraint Thomas, Team Sky rider, musing on the latest round of hostilities this week between his gilded teammates Sir Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome.


At least, I think that is what he said.

It was hard to hear him above the din of stable doors being slammed shut while hooves clattered away into the distance.

As Thomas must surely know, this one entered soap-opera territory a long time ago.

Short of Team Sky ending all news conferences with the drum salute from British television show Eastenders, it is hard to see how it could become more of one.

An elder "brother" arguably failing to repay the unstinting loyalty of his family? Soap opera.

A younger "sibling" attempting to break the bonds of the accepted hierarchy? Soap opera.

A beloved, wise old patriarch forced to choose between his two favourite sons? Soap opera.

Glamorous wives and girlfriends slinging e-drinks into each others' faces at their local hostelry, the Twitter Tavern? Guys, we can barely see you for the suds.

In case you have not been following this particular story, I should probably give you a summary. I believe this is how they do it nowadays.

Previously, on Team Skystenders ...

Hey, Froomey, thanks for helping me to win the Tour de France, I really appreciate it!

No problem, Wiggo, can I rely on you to return the favour next year?

Yes, of course you can mate! Well, sort of. Actually, no you can't, I want to win it again.

'Ere, you said I could win the Tour this year and now Wiggo says he fancies it. So who's it gonna be, Dad ... erm, I mean Dave Brailsford (Team Sky general manager)?

Yeah, Dave, you said last year it would be my Chris' turn. If you change your mind now, he will walk away from you forever! Won't you, Chris?!

Yes dear.

OK everyone, just calm down! I've made my decision. My principal rider for this year's Tour will be ... (agonising pause) ... DUM-DUM-DUM, DUM, DAD-DA-DUM!

Cut to adverts.


In reality, of course, a soap opera is exactly what cycling does need.

Every sport can use a little added spice, especially one that otherwise revolves around a group of sinewy men pounding their way up what looks to the untrained eye like an identical stretch of mountain road for 12 hours.

To the casual observer it can all seem a little ... robotic. Flashes of human emotions, even the baser ones like jealousy, greed and resentment, are a useful reminder that these guys really are flesh and blood. Mostly clean blood, too, nowadays.

Cycling professionals must know this, too. While I would not agree with cynics who claim the rivalry is entirely staged for PR purposes, it does seem that nobody is trying very hard to put a lid on it.

So Wiggins gives yet another inflammatory interview, Froome fires off a counter statement, and even his girlfriend, Michelle Cound, who is also part of his team, feels free to mouth off on Twitter again last year she had an exchange of terse Tweets with Wiggins' wife.

Far from being embarrassed by this latest outburst, Brian Cookson, the president of British Cycling, seemed delighted to discuss it on a national radio station this week.

"It is a great problem to have," he chuckled.

Meanwhile, Brailsford continues to spin out the story by withholding a definitive answer.

When he named Froome last year as his primary choice for the Tour, he was quick to insert a "to be confirmed" get-out clause.

And now we are simply told that "anything can happen" between now and the start of the Tour, so we'll just have to wait and see.

This is pure theatre: a bottoms-on-seats tactic that appears to be paying dividends.

Thomas acknowledged as much in the same interview, saying that "the sport really needs these types of stories, it gets people talking".

So we agree on the principal, that cycling needs human drama.

He just does not like the term "soap opera" and has the usual minority sportsman's resentment over the cultural domination of football.

I cannot do much about the football thing but, if high-minded cycle fans prefer, we could call the Wiggins-Froome soap opera a "narrative arc".

That sounds a little classier, doesn't it?

A little more European, a little less vulgar.

With the Giro d'Italia starting tomorrow and the Tour less than two months away, I cannot wait for the next episode. Sorry, I mean the next development of the narrative arc.





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