Knee Deep in Motivation

Bradley Wiggins, after an outstanding 2012 is struggling to come to terms with an ordinary 2013, lets take a look at how that might have come about.

2012

Lets not forget just how stellar a year it was for Wiggo in 2012, here’s a list of his main achievements during the year.

  • Winner : Paris Nice
  • Winner : Tour de Romandie
  • Winner : Criterium du Dauphine
  • Winner : Tour de France
  • Gold Medal : Olympic Time Trial

He won Paris Nice & almost everybody wondered why he was peaking so early, then at Romandie we were astounded, he’d kept that peak going. Moving on to the Dauphine & we were sure he had peaked to early on the run up to the Tour, then the Tour came along & he took that too (although we don’t really know how strong Froome was, or if he was stronger would he have been mentally ready to lead the team). Finally the Olympic Gold medal was taken in London in front of huge crowds. An incredibly hard season to follow, most riders would be legends winning these events over an entire career, let along one season.

2013

We really have no idea about what effect maintaining his 2012 form over a long period of time has had on Wiggin’s body, let along his mind, the discipline he ruled on himself must have been incredible. We also have to factor is the stardom effect, after a year like that he’s moved from somebody most people had heard of to a household name in the UK, the media demands are huge for somebody thrown into that kind of fame over a relatively short period of time.

In order for an ‘engine’ like Wiggo to perform against the climbers, he has to run at an incredibly low body weight, which we presume a Sky doctor is constantly monitoring in order to keep him healthy. So we can also presume that a body fat percentage like that is a fine line between staying healthy & performing incredibly well. Perhaps this is one of the reasons that he’s been unable to maintain the kind of form he enjoyed in 2012, maybe it’s impossible for the Sky backup team to factor in all the appearances he had to make in winter 2012/2013 in relation to his relative public demand in the winter of 2011/2012, where he’d really only won the Dauphine & it has very little public perception in the UK.

So far in 2013, he’s finished 5th in both the Giro del Trentino & the Vuelta a Catalunya, with some mechanical problems adding to the disappointment. In the Giro we were having to come to various conclusions as to what was going wrong, be it form, illness, motivation, or a mixture of them all, which resulted in having to withdraw with a chest infection.

What is going on?

There’s no reason to believe that Wiggins didn’t have a chest infection at the Giro, but I’d ponder that a chain of events have led to this being the case. Possibly started by a lack of motivation, after all, what exactly did he have to prove by re-running the 2012 season, which as he stated himself, would have been a failure if he didn’t surpass what he achieved last year. So the Giro was targeted, but can we be sure that the Giro is as motivationally tempting to him as the Tour, regardless of what’s said in press conferences, we’d imagine not. So this leads to my motivation pondering, can a lower level of motivation lead to an athlete becoming ill?

Take the winter of 2011/2012, Wiggins knows he has the ability to win the Tour, the following year is made for him, he decides to give his all to turning up at the Tour is the best shape possible. He knuckles down & lives a life none of us can imagine, carefully controlling absolutely everything in his life, he does this for a full year with one thing in mind.

Now we move on to the winter of 2012/2013, he’s won the Tour, the next year’s is going to be a harder course for him & he also knows that his team-mate will be less inclined to hold back this time, a team-mate who it niggles him in the back of his mind may have had the ability to beat him without team orders. Wiggins has to be better than 2012 in order to win the Tour again, he has to be better to even have team leadership, in all likelihood he’ll be a super-domestique for Froome if he concentrates on the Tour. He doesn’t take quite as much care of himself (still living a life of discipline none of us can really imagine), he has huge demands on his time, his recovery time is affected massively, with travelling, functions, late nights etc.

If you take a step back & look at what Wiggins has had to endure during the winter, demands far above what he’s ever been used to in the past, 2013 was always going to be a disappointment. He knew he also had to improve to do the same again, so he focussed on the Giro instead and reshaped his calendar around that. Essentially he lowered his targets to some extent in order to focus on different goals, it was a plan that may have worked, but a weather stricken Giro, form not at 100% & a stunning Nibali put and end to those hopes rapidly. Brad had to go deep into his reserves, presumably with an incredibly low body fat percentage, slightly lower form & unseasonably bad weather in the Giro, all added to something Sky couldn’t control & the wheels came off the wagon. We don’t know what would have happened had any factors been different, but Wiggin’s team-mate eventually finishing 2nd (at over 4 mins) shows that had things gone to Sky’s plan, Brad would surely have been expected to finish above Uran, i.e much closer or ahead of Nibali. But looking at it, it seems unlikely that the Maglia Rosa would have been on anybody elses shoulders, Nibali looked like he still had an extra gear he had no need to use against the competition that surfaced in the final week, I think he would have won anyway.

Where are we now?

Wiggins is suffering from a bad knee, as reported today, but when things go wrong, the little things seem a lot worse. Take the mechanical issues in Wiggins early 2013 season, you could feel the frustration bubbling over what he would have taken little issue with in the past. The report suggests he’s still able to train, but could this be another poor PR gesture from Sky, who are really between a rock & a hard place on this, when you’ve got twitter participants like Froome’s girlfriend suggesting that there’s no way Wiggins will be riding in the same team, in the same race as Froome (remember ‘Wagwars’ from last year). My guess is that he won’t be on the start line in this years Tour, or any others for that matter.

Conclusion

This isn’t a blog about slagging Bradley Wiggins, it’s more about understanding what he’s been through in order to perform as spectacularly well as he did in 2012, then the fall out from that effort in body & mind. He’s proven what he can do & anything less in any further years would be a let down. I expect him to retire from professional cycling at the end of the year, he should be applauded for what he’s done to the profile of the sport in the UK, he’s taken the brunt of many Team Sky PR blunders & if motivation isn’t going to rise above knee level, it’s maybe time to step away from bike racing while he’s still at the top. Wiggins suffered many years of living on the fringes of nearly making it big time, he doesn’t need to do that anymore, he’s set himself up for life.

Brad, you’ve done us proud, you’ve also earned millions, don’t screw it up now, enjoy the rest of your life without having to worry about pedalling a bike fast, you earned a pittance doing that for too long, it’s time to enjoy the spoils of war, don’t get any more scars, life isn’t bike racing, it’s just one small (but necessary) part of it.

Follow me on Twitter @spokedoke

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