Blazin' Saddles

Where’s Wiggo?

Blazin' Saddles

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This time last year, Bradley Wiggins was on his way to winning the Dauphiné ahead of what would prove a double winning assault on the Tour de France and Olympics.

A year on and it's Wiggins's Sky team-mate Chris Froome who leads the pack in the eight-day stage race in France... and it's Froome who will spearhead Sky's – and Britain's – bid for a second successive Tour victory.

Just a couple of months ago, Wiggo was bullishly talking up his chances of becoming the first Briton to win the Giro d'Italia and then carrying that form into defending his Tour crown in July. That was before a chest infection and some dodgy downhill riding in the rain ended his chances on the Giro.

Even before his Giro heartbreak, Wiggins had learned that his internal rival Froome had been given the nod by Dave Brailsford to be Sky's designated leader for the Tour. Now, for the first time since injury deprived Stephen Roche of taking to the Grand Depart in 1988, the reigning Tour champion will not defend his crown after Wiggins pulled out of the race last week citing a knee injury.

"It's a huge disappointment not to make the Tour. I desperately wanted to be there, for the team and for all the fans along the way – but it's not going to happen," Wiggins – presumably via a press officer with worthy ghost-writing capabilities – told Team Sky's website.

"I can't train the way I need to train and I'm not going to be ready. Once you accept that, it's almost a relief not having to worry about the injury and the race against time. I've been through this before, when I broke my collarbone [in 2010], so I know how it works. I'll get this sorted, set new goals for this season and focus on those.

"This team has so many riders in great shape, ready for selection and we set incredible standards for performance which shouldn't be compromised. We need to have the best chance to win," concluded Sir Dave Br– sorry, Sir Bradley Wiggins.

Since the announcement was made Wiggins has disappeared off the planet. There have been no sightings, no Tweets, no interviews – nothing. With this in mind, Blazin' Saddles asks...

Where's Wiggo – and what's he up to? Here are some possible answers...

Preparing for the Vuelta

In his statement, Wiggins talked of "setting new goals" and the usual remedy for crashing out of the Tour de France is to save one's season at the Vuelta a Espana. With seven summit finishes and just one 38km individual time trial, this year's course will hardly put a smile back on Wiggo's forlorn face.

But the 33-year-old did say, ahead of his Giro woes, that he was climbing better than ever – and this would give him a chance to renew his rivalry with Vincenzo Nibali after two failed attempts at a showdown in both Trentino and the Giro.

Preparing for the Worlds

As a baddie once said to James Bond, the world is not enough – but in 007 Wiggo's case it could well be the only thing he can take from a torrid 2013. Having added the Olympic time trial gold medal to multiple Olympic and World Championship track medals last summer, the World Championship time trial title is something that still eludes Wiggins.

With the right training and attitude, Wiggins will certainly be one of the favourites in Tuscany – and what better way to kick off the 2014 season than in the rainbow jersey of a world champion?

Drinking and smoking too much

After becoming the British first athlete in 40 years to win three medals in one Games at the Athens Olympics in 2004, Wiggins struggled to deal with the void and took to the bottle. It was this dark period that eventually inspired him to take to road cycling – but Wiggins admitted readily in his autobiography that he does have a booze problem.

His heroics last summer were celebrated with a fair few tipples – even the odd cigarette – and after this latest setback, the pub may seem a more welcome place than the rollers or an ergometer.

Having an early midlife crisis

As explained above, Wiggins has struggled to deal both with over-achievement and under-achievement in the past, experiencing slumps in form and morale after his glorious summer in 2004, his poor showing in the 2010 Tour and his collarbone break one year later. On all three occasions, Wiggins came back stronger.

But there is fear it could we worse this time, with former coach and close friend Shane Sutton – a man Wiggins describes as "the only person who knows me and understands me inside out" – claiming with perhaps a modicum of hyperbole: "This is definitely a crisis point. What will it do to him mentally? I don't know."

Comparing Wiggo to "a sponge washing a car," Sutton believes that his friend has been "wrung dry". Time for the sponge to reabsorb some fitter fluids.

Setting totally new goals

Wiggins got over his 2004 void by switching his focus to road cycling. He got over the disappointment of finishing 23rd in the 2010 Tour by switching his training methods. He got over his collarbone break by fine-tuning his preparation, working with Tim Kerrison and training at altitude in Tenerife. His hunger, determination and ability to adapt have served him well. And he needs to shake things up again.

He's now a big family man, so perhaps – as Sutton suggests – "they should be with him more when he's away". With everyone thinking of a double assault on the Vuelta and World Championships time trial, maybe Wiggins should surprise everyone by targeting the undulating Worlds road race in Tuscany as well as the ITT? He could also use his track heritage to have a pop at the hour record.

Gaining inspiration from the sidelines

"As far as I'm concerned," says Sutton, "he will watch the Tour [on TV] and be absolutely sick that he's not there. That could be the spark that lights the blue touch paper. He's 33 but I don't believe he's finished. He just needs something to whet his palate."

Wiggins is three years younger than Cadel Evans and the Australian took a podium in the Giro while treating it as a training ride. There's life in the old dog yet – after all, Evans was 34 when he won his first and only Tour.

Growing his sideburns

If Wiggins wants his mojo back then perhaps he should consider regrowing his trademark bushy whiskers? Since he shaved off his lamb chops, Wiggins has certainly been a less meaty presence on the bike.

Jamming on his guitar

During Wiggo's post-Olympic haze of oft-inebriated celebration, the Mod revivalist took to the stage to play guitar alongside his musical idol Paul Weller. A single was promised but, unless it passed Saddles by, never materialised. Perhaps now it the time to enter the studio and record some tunes – or even try a new direction and record an updated version of Tour de France with Kraftwerk? Releasing a single could be the only way Wiggo gets to the top of the charts this season.

Co-presenting Wimbledon with Sue Barker

No one can deny that Wiggins shared some electric on-screen chemistry with Sue 'Susan' Barker during the BBC Sports Personality of the Year last December. Now that Wiggo's free in July, perhaps the pair can be reunited on screen during Wimbledon? The only problem is that Wiggo's flirtation with Susan was clearly fuelled by a hefty session in the pub. Recreating this romance may somewhat dent his plans to stay off the bottle.

Starring in some road safety TV adverts

After returning to training following his dual successes of last summer, Wiggins had a scare when being knocked off his bike by a van near his Lancashire home, breaking a rib in the process. If Sir Chris Hoy can advertise cereal and Victoria Pendleton can do her bit for bread, then surely Wiggins would be the ideal candidate to front a new road safety campaign? Just think of the possibilities for a catchy slogan: "Drivers – you're all c***s" or "Have a safe journey and don't get too drunk".

Looking for a new team

Froome's meteoric rise with the ever improving Richie Porte as his right-hand man – not to mention Rigoberto Uran's runner-up cameo in the Giro – shows what an embarrassment of riches there are at Sky. Even without Wiggins, Sky arguably have three riders who could win a Grand Tour – with another, Sergio Henao, lying in wait.

Should Wiggins decide that he's surplus to requirements he may seek out a new team for 2014. Given his Belgian roots the obvious choice would be Omega Pharma-Quick Step, where he could renew his old friendship with sprinter Mark Cavendish.

But Uran seems to have got in their first, the Colombian all but certain of making the switch in the winter. Perhaps Wiggo can lean on his father's Australian heritage and provide Orica-GreenEdge with the Grand Tour contender they so desperately need?

Putting two fingers up at the critics

Of course, Wiggins may just stay put and prove his critics wrong. Who knows what may happen during the Tour. Should Froome and Porte fail to live up to their expectation and Wiggins perform well in the Vuelta, Wiggo may suddenly find himself back as numero uno in Dave Brailsford's eyes. After all, Sir Dave last week was keen to remind everyone that Wiggins was "a champion, a formidable athlete and will come back winning as he has before".

Taking a well earned break

It's easy to forget what a barnstorming season Wiggins had last year. Such were his achievements, it's hardly surprising that his form this year has been so patchy. Look at Philippe Gilbert – the world champion has struggled to replicate the form of recent years and is still without a win in 2013.

Wiggins has nothing to prove and if anyone deserves a break, it's him. Critics will say he owes team-mate Froome a stint as a domestique on the Tour – but given Wiggins's condition, pulling out of this year's race could well be a far bigger favour for Froome than anything he could achieve on the bike in July.

What do you think Wiggo's doing at the moment? Join the discussion and have your say below...

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