With the Rio Olympics just over the horizon in 2016, the composition of the Great Britain road and track cycling teams is forcing some tough decisions to be made by our top stars, as they decide how best or even whether to pursue their Olympic dreams. For two of our most popular cyclists, both former BBC Sports Personalities of the Year, it seems to be time to make their plans clear, as both Sir Bradley Wiggins and Mark Cavendish have discussed their futures.
Cavendish is the hero of the small island of the Isle of Man who for a long time was the undisputed sprint king on the roads, as he swept to stage win after stage win in the Tour de France. Who will ever forget the wondrous sight of the Manx Missile on the Avenue des Champs-Elysees as he stepped out from behind his lead man’s wheel and stormed to last stage victory four years in succession. In total he has amassed a quite staggering 25 individual stage wins at Le Tour and a further 15 stage wins at the Giro d’Italia during an amazing career to date.
Yet, despite all his success on the roads (including the prestigious World road title in 2011 in Copenhagen), a medal at the Olympics has so far eluded him. He competed in Beijing in 2008 on the track without luck, but then turned to the road race for London in 2012 where a strong GB team was assembled around him, but again the race did not go his way, as he trailed in a modest 29th place. With another opportunity to close that gap in his distinguished CV so close at hand, he had initially suggested a track return was feasible but it now seems that he has resigned himself to not participating in Rio after all. The road race in Brazil is on a hilly course that would not be best suited to a confirmed sprinter such as himself, whereas in order to qualify for the track races he would require (what he feels as) unreasonable flexibility from his current road team, the Belgians Etixx-Quick-Step to release him for sufficient World Cup events. He seems to be stuck with the day job for now, given that there are better time trial exponents than him, the only other race he could have reasonably considered.
It is a great pity, considering the devotion and dedication that “Cav” has given to the sport, but he feels that the way that cycling is currently set up, then the options for cyclists being employed by road racing teams are limited when it comes to track cycling. At 29, he knows that another Olympics after Rio would be a long shot in the extreme to further his ambitions, yet his desire to compete was evident as he commentated for the BBC during the last Olympics. It prompted him to seriously consider his options four years on, but it now seems that time has run out.
By contrast, Wiggins seems to be going full steam ahead for what is surely to be his final crack at the Olympics. He has announced the launch of ‘Team Wiggins’ (track and road cycling team) to enable him to qualify for the track cycling in Rio where he has had so much Olympic success in the past, and to also allow young British riders such as Andy Tennant, Steven Burke and Owain Doull to flourish. Importantly, British Cycling have given their backing to the new team, although it will operate outside of their remit. Up until April, Wiggins will see out his existing contract with Team Sky.
Wiggins can boast the ultimate cycling prize of overall victory at the Tour de France in 2012, becoming the first Brit to achieve that, besides a World time trial title last year when he finally overcame arguably the greatest rider in that classification, the German Tony Martin.
In addition, he already has seven Olympic medals (including four golds) in his swelling kit bag, something that Cavendish is surely envious of. He also knows that he needs just one more Olympic medal to become the most decorated British athlete of all time.
At 34, Wiggins is reaching the end of his career, but seems determined to have several last ‘hurrahs’ on the way, with another target being the individual world hour record this year.
Cavendish and Wiggins actually competed together at Beijing in the Madison event and went into the competition with genuine medal hopes, having won the world title in the past. Wiggins had the legacy of other strenuous events already in his legs though and try as he might, could not force the pace sufficiently to get them on to the rostrum as they faded to only ninth. In the aftermath, the two friends fell out dramatically with each other and would not talk together for months.
Cavendish will continue his road commitments this season as he once again targets the Giro d’Italia and Le Tour. The other sprinters seem to have caught him up these days, but who would bet against him adding one or two more stage wins to his existing haul along the way, although he will still harbour regrets over the Olympic medals that got away it seems. #Celebrities