Sir Bradley Wiggins’s absence is disappointing, but it should not detract from the big picture, writes Nick Westby.
When the 198 riders that will contest this year’s Tour de France are presented to the world at the First Direct Arena in Leeds this evening, it is the absence of one man that will reverberate around the great hall loudest.
Not even the passage of time, and nearly a month has elapsed since it was first announced, could have assuaged the disappointment felt by millions of cycling and sports fans, and the man himself, that Sir Bradley Wiggins will not be on that stage.
For a decade, he has towered over British cycling. Peerless on the track, a pioneer on the road – that he will not be on the start line on the Headrow and racing into Harrogate and Sheffield, almost beggars belief.
Wiggins is, after all, this country’s first Tour de France winner in history, a feat achieved not 24 months ago.
Yet when the chance came to give him one last glorious farewell on our very own roads in the race he chased for so long, it was taken from us.
To the sports fan, the man in the street who will wave his flag as the peloton passes, or the child whose face is painted yellow as the breakaway dashes up Holme Moss, his absence is inconceivable. To the cycling fan, it makes perfect sense.
Sky may have scored a public relations own goal by not including him in their nine-man team and then allowing an angry Wiggins to get his side of the story in first on a rival broadcaster, but, from a purely sporting sense, the decision made perfect sense.
Wiggins is not the rider he was two years ago when he swept all before him in France and at London 2012.
Furthermore, the lack of harmony between himself and Sky’s team leader, Chris Froome, meant the two could never again be bedfellows in the same team, particularly in the biggest race of all.
Sir Dave Brailsford – who perhaps would not be a Sir without Wiggins, and vice-versa – had no option. To win a third successive Tour de France, Sky need clarity, harmony and as few intangibles as is possible in such a vast race.
So there is no Wiggins, but there are plenty to cheer as they ride past you this weekend, and as they are unveiled this evening.
Cheer loudly for Froome and embrace him to your hearts.
He may not have the charisma of Wiggins but he has the same admirable drive.
Roar vociferously for Mark Cavendish, who has made it his mission to win Saturday’s first stage into his mother’s home town of Harrogate.
Clap heartily for Geraint Thomas who will ride to the ends of the earth in support of Froome.
And gaze upon the focus on the faces of the biggest names in cycling: Alberto Contador, Vincenzo Nibali, Peter Sagan, Marcel Kittel, Andre Greipel, Simon Gerrans, Rui Costa and Tejay van Garderen.
Part of the reason the Tour is in Yorkshire is because of Wiggins. But it should not be weaker without him.