Will Bradley Wiggins be allowed to defend his Tour de France crown
21:41 GMT, 15 December 2012
Bradley Wiggins would be the first to admit that his year of awesome achievement would not have been possible without the methodical mind of the man who has become the most influential figure in British cycling.
But now Dave Brailsford faces one of the most difficult decisions of his sporting life: does he encourage Wiggins to fulfil his dream of consecutive victories in the Tour de France — or ask the man who is clear favourite to lift the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award to follow team orders to play second string to Chris Froome’s attempt to win the most gruelling event in sport
Champion: Bradley Wiggins has had a sensational year but now is the time huge decisions will be made on next year's Tour
This summer, Brailsford presided brilliantly over Team Sky’s militarystyle campaign which enabled Wiggins to ride triumphantly along the Champs Elysees as the first British winner in the 109-year history of the Tour de France.
For his encore, Wiggins won an Olympic gold medal nine days later against the backdrop of Hampton Court Palace and Brailsford, as British Cycling’s performance director, had confirmed his status as a linchpin in Wiggins’s life for the past dozen years.
Now, with Wiggins talking for the first time last week of wanting to defend his Tour de France title rather than concentrating on the Giro d’Italia and playing a support role to Froome on the 2013 Tour, Brailsford knows he must manage the expectations of two of road racing’s greatest exponents.
Golden boy: Just nine days after becoming Britain's first ever Tour champion, Wiggins stormed through the streets of London to take Olympic gold
‘We haven’t finalised our plans for next year,’ said Brailsford, speaking last week from the warm weather camp in Majorca where Wiggins has been getting back to work in the afterglow of his phenomenal summer.
‘Bradley’s had a taste of celebrity but he has relished getting back the structure in his life and he is in great shape. Brad loves normality.’
Froome, thought to be marginally favoured by the route of next year’s Tour, which includes four mountain summit finishes and fewer stage miles in the time trials, and Wiggins have both publicly pledged to abide by the decision Brailsford arrives at with his trusted right-hand man, Australian Shane Sutton. Yet, briefly, there was tension between the two riders this summer, if swiftly managed.
Champion team: Wiggins celebrates with team-mates on the Champs-lyses
On Stage 11, Froome risked leaving Wiggins, leading the Tour by two minutes, exposed on the road when he made an unscheduled break on a climb.
‘It looked worse than it was,’ insisted Brailsford last week.
‘Through Froomey’s eyes, Brad was going really well and had a big buffer and he was thinking about his own position in relation to (Vincenzo) Nibali.
‘It was a brief bit of exuberance from Chris. If his intention had been to attack Bradley, he’d have kept going but, once he realised Brad was not on his wheel, he played his team role. There was no malice or going against team orders.’ Even so, he had to be told to back off.
Team talk: Sky team principal Dave Brailsford will soon decide who will lead his team in next year's Tour. Will it be Wiggins or Froome… or even both
At the time, Wiggins was distinctly unamused. ‘From that moment, through the rest of the Tour, I didn’t quite know what to expect from Chris when it got into the heat of battle,’ Wiggins wrote in his autobiography.
For Brailsford, the incident is consigned to history; a small blip during a Wiggins- Froome blitz of the world’s best riders.
Instead he remembers how Wiggins, a man who already possessed six Olympic track cycling medals, three of them gold, turned his career around two years ago to enable him to win the greatest bike race in the world after 21 glorious days in July.
According to Brailsford, Wiggins’s road to glory on the Tour de France began in a private — and uncomfortable — meeting at the end of a disappointing first season for Team Sky.
‘Bradley had to look hard at himself in the mirror at the end of 2010,’ he said. Brailsford acknowledged that mistakes had been made — ‘We over-complicated everything,’ he admitted — but Wiggins also faced a personal crisis.
His performance dipped and his mind wandered as he mourned the death of his beloved grandfather, George — his role-model after his father, Gary, a professional cyclist, walked out on him and his mother, Linda, when he was a child. Wiggins’s world crashed. He turned off his phone and could not be contacted. Patience within Team Sky was close to being exhausted.
Magic moment: Wiggins crosses the finish line in Paris, but many say next year's route would be better suited to the mountain climbing strengths of Chris Froome
At one low moment, Wiggins later learned the crisis ran so deep that Brailsford asked team psychiatrist Steve Peters: ‘What should we do with Brad He’s a bloody nightmare.’
Eventually Wiggins, with the support of his wife, Cath, realised he had to address his problems. At a team summit with Brailsford, Sutton agreed to Wiggins’s request to coach him.
Last week Brailsford recalled: ‘We had words and we had some honest feedback with Brad. But after that first year, as a team, we went back to the drawing board.
Team tension: Chris Froome congratulates Wiggins on his gold medal but was itching to break free from his supportive role in this summer's Tour
'We had clarity of purpose with everyone thinking the same way. But Brad deserves a lot of credit for his unbelievable hard work and the maturity that now makes him easy to coach.’
Never had a man on a bike travelled so far, or so fast, into the consciousness of the public than Wiggins.
‘The first week of the Tour is all about not losing any time, but it’s also about not crashing,’ said Brailsford. ‘The safest place is at the front of the bunch — but every other team is trying to do the same, so it becomes like a scene from Ben Hur.’
National treasure: Bradley Wiggins is joined on the podium by German silver medallist Tony Martin and Britain's Chris Froome, who finished third
On the third stage, Kosta Siutsou, a key support rider for Wiggins, broke a leg.
‘That shook everyone in the team and the mood was pretty fraught,’ admitted Brailsford.
‘Of course, for Brad it brought back memories of how his Tour had been ended by a broken collar-bone the previous year. It was quite a jolt because, at the time, we didn’t know how the story was going to unfold.’
From that moment, Team Sky had to combat their rivals with eight men rather than nine. And Brailsford had to gather the riders and staff together to restore morale as fast as possible.
Power house: Wiggins is the best time trialist in the world but next year's Tour will have fewer time trial miles
‘It is a mini-grieving process,’ he said. ‘Anger surfaces and then there is an acceptance that life is not fair, that the goalposts get moved.’
Brailsford’s management style is fastidious and he leaves nothing to chance.
‘We take our own beds from hotel to hotel and everybody has their same pillow every night,’ he said. ‘We vacuum and dust every room before the riders arrive and we install airconditioning and de-humidifiers.’
The team travel with their own chef and the team bus is a haven of luxury. Wiggins excelled as each day came and passed.
He earned the Yellow Jersey on stage seven and wore it all the way to Paris, where he was greeted by thousands of ecstatic British supporters, many wearing fake sideburns as a tribute to their laid-back hero.
‘For me, there was a feeling of elation and pure joy at Brad getting that jersey,’ said Brailsford.
‘It was a perfect performance from the team — one of my best days in cycling. ‘Brad is a connoisseur of the sport, he knows its history. You had only to look at him to see how much it meant. Fundamentally, he is a family man, a decent man and a very funny man.
He’s a colourful character, strongminded like all champions, and someone who occasionally courts controversy — but Brad has a heart of gold.’
Leading the pack: Team Sky's strategy of leading from the front worked spectacularly well during the summer
On returning from Paris, Wiggins was given the honour of ringing the bell at the opening ceremony in the Olympic Stadium, symbolically declaring the Games had commenced.
Four days afterwards, he was receiving an Olympic gold medal after destroying all-comers in the road time trial, the race of truth.
‘To make history in the Tour de France was a big deal but then to take Olympic gold so soon afterwards makes what Bradley did this summer exceptional,’ said Brailsford, who will be in the audience at the BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year awards tonight.
Brailsford’s own day of judgment — whether to throw his support behind Wiggins or Froome on the 2013 Tour — lies ahead this winter.