The approach displayed by Sky and Wiggins in the run-up to the Tour has been the target of much criticism. Too calculated, too robotic, etc. And to be sure, Sky’s approach of “marginal gains” involves leaving no stone unturned. But to pooh-pooh the approach and say Wiggins is boring and should be attacking in the mountains as if he’s a Colombian climber is misplaced.
Let’s first look at the race strategy of having your teammates set a steady pace while you follow. Maybe it’s not as exciting as attacking the climbs and trying to drop everybody, but that’s not Wiggins’ fault. It’s quite simple, the climbers yo-yo up the climbs with one main objective; to crack riders like Wiggins.
So it would be rather dumb to ask of Wiggins to crack himself. He, like Evans, is at his best when he rides a steady pace. Maybe that’s “boring”, but it’s how he makes the most of his abilities and to do anything else makes no sense.
Looking at Sky’s approach as a whole, much has been made of their preparation, their incessant testing and their team of coaches, psychologists, course investigators and tire sniffers. But I would make two comments on that:
- It’s not that different from the approach that several teams take.
- If you had an ex-pursuiter as your main ace to win the Tour, what approach would you take? Just wing it, or try to control everything you can? Preparing a rider for the Tour is not about what “the best absolute approach” is. Rather, it’s about what the best approach for a specific rider is. And for Wiggins, it is very well possible that he derives comfort and confidence from a very structured approach. Does this mean Wiggins will win? No, but it probably means he’s got a better chance this way than by just winging it.
That said, I think these over-structured approaches do backfire spectacularly from time to time, as the structure can also drive somebody crazy. And of course, when you try to do things a bit differently (or at least talk about them more than other teams), you’re bound to be criticized.
It also means that when it goes wrong, we’ll certainly see a lot of ridicule (“that aero helmet didn’t save him from crashing into that cow”). Sky knows like no other that you cannot control everything (just think back 12 months), but should you therefore give up on controlling anything? Given the rider they have, I think the answer is no.