Wigged out

When Brad Wiggins abandoned the Giro, he abandoned his pro career. Actually, he abandoned it shortly after winning the Tour when he declared that, unlike any other Tour champion in the history of this drug-addled sport, he would not focus the following year on a repeat victory. Then, more incredibly, he announced that he would support teammate Chris Froome–an unproven nobody–for the win.

You will never see Brad Wiggins at the top of the sport again. His chances of finishing the Tour are less than 50/50, and his chance of winning it is zero.

Zero.

The mystery trajectory and even more mysterious abdication

No one has ever explained how Wiggins went from being a Tour donkey to a Tour champion in a way that excludes the virtual certainty that he did it with performance enhancing drugs. No one in the history of the sport, with the exceptions of admitted druggies Bjarne Riis and Lance Armstrong, has ever gone from stage race mule to stage race racehorse of the Tour.

Wiggins’s success was based on the following:

  1. A training plan in Tenerife that kept him protected from unannounced testing.
  2. A training plan based around “Sir” David Brailsford’s philosophy of “marginal gains.” This is code for “just enough dope to push the natural envelope, but not enough to be detectable.”
  3. Massive weight loss.
  4. Extensive psychological counseling.
  5. A “marginally gained” team dedicated to delivering the victory to Wiggins.

Remove any of these elements and Wiggins could never repeat his success of 2012, a year that saw much more than “just” a Tour victory. It was a year that saw a former stage race non-entity go from dragging ass to driving the peloton in the Tour of Romandie and then pulling out a sprint victory at La Chaux-de-Fonds at the end of the stage. Oh, and winning the overall. Marginal gains? I prefer to call them superhuman gains.

Sitting atop a season that saw him knighted, saw him anointed as the first ever British winner of the Tour, and saw him dominating the entire pre-Tour stage race calendar, it was equally unprecedented when he announced he would not be seeking a second Tour win, but would instead focus on the Giro.

This is like the defending NCAA basketball champion announcing that next year’s goal would be the NIT. The Giro and the Tour have nothing in common in terms of prestige, difficulty, luster to one’s career, or meaning in the record books. He certainly didn’t abdicate because he thought that he would do better in the Dolomites or because he suddenly wanted to win the Giro more than anything else.

He did it because Brailsford told him to.

Why Brailsford told him to

Brailsford has long seen the writing on the wall in terms of doping. The days when riders like “Mr. 61 Percent” Bjarne Riis, or Capo di Tutti Capos Lance Armstrong could jack themselves up with maximum drugs and face minimal risk of detection, the new doping paradigm, ironically, favors wealthy teams even more than the old one did.

That’s because the new doping paradigm employs all of the weapons in the training arsenal, especially weight loss and insulation from unannounced tests, along with extremely careful moderation of drugs so that they don’t upset biological passport parameters. The cost of the medical team and medical monitoring, and the cost of hideaway camps in Tenerife, is beyond that of all but the richest teams.

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