It might not be obvious to the outsider, but Bradley Wiggins (Sky) insists his preparation for the Giro d’Italia, which begins on Saturday, has been as effective as his build-up for last year’s Tour de France, which he won.
At least, all had gone according to plan up to Monday afternoon, when, a day after his 33rd birthday, Wiggins spent three hours speaking to the media in a luxury hotel close to his home in Lancashire, north-west England.
That didn’t mean a day without training. He had a time trial session planned for the evening.
“This is all hypothetical,” Wiggins pointed out at the end of the three hours, after explaining, and repeating, and repeating again, his plans to win the Giro and then defend his Tour title. “Because I may crash tomorrow in training, or tonight when I go and do this time trial session, and end up in hospital again.”
It was on these roads, of course, that Wiggins collided with a vehicle over the winter. Monday evening’s session was unusual: he has hardly ridden here since then, spending much of the time in Majorca or Tenerife.
He has also been more selective in his racing, “sacrificing wins,” he said, in order to ride races designed to prepare him for the Giro.
So, no stage races in which he could build a foundation for overall victory in the time trial — he has yet to ride an individual time trial in 2013, which is why Monday’s session was also important — and then defend in the mountains.
But then again, the Wiggins and Sky mantra is “prepare for the demands of the event.” And this year’s Giro is all about climbing. “Most of the Giro is uphill,” Wiggins said. “So you have to train uphill.
“That’s been the biggest difference this year. We’ve trained more consistently to climb better on the steeper climbs. And based on what we saw a couple of weeks ago, I’ve made huge improvements.”
He was talking about the Giro del Trentino, where he finished fifth behind the rider likely to be his big rival at the Giro, Vincenzo Nibali (Astana). Don’t read too much into the result, suggested Wiggins. “We’re in a better place than I was going into the Tour last year.”
Plus, he said that he spent much of the time watching Nibali. “I’ve studied him; I watched him closely in Trentino. He’s difficult to read: he doesn’t bluff, but he doesn’t show any emotion. He’s very crafty.
“I think I learned more about him than he learned about me because I didn’t really get the opportunity to let go on the climbs. I had the issue with my bike [mechanical problems on the Sega di Ala climb on stage 4], and the day before that I couldn’t really come through because I had Costa [Kanstantsin Siutsou] up the road.”
Wiggins believes Nibali is in better shape than at last year’s Tour, where he finished third behind him and his Sky teammate, Chris Froome. “There’s a lot at stake for him in this race. He’s the big Italian favorite and he’s trained for this. This is his event, his one big race.”
Nibali might have the edge in the mountains, but Wiggins insisted the climbs, especially the steep ascents that characterize the Giro, hold no fear, where once they did. “Even last year that was the thing that concerned me: how I was going to hold out on the climbs,” he said.
“But because of the things we’ve been doing this year, I’ve got more confidence, more belief in my climbing ability. I still don’t know at this stage whether I will stay with Nibali on some of those tough finishes, the real steep ones, but I know I will certainly not lose more than a handful of time — [it will be] seconds here and there, maybe 20 seconds if I’m on a bad day.
“But I’m pretty confident I can stay with him whatever he throws at me. That’s all I have to do, really, because I’m confident in time trials. From what I’ve seen, I can beat him. Looking back, I beat him by 6 minutes, 19 seconds at the Tour last year. Which is quite a lot. I only have to win the Giro by one second.”
And then the Tour? While Froome, who has so far enjoyed a 2013 season remarkably similar to Wiggins’ in 2012, is adamant that he will lead Team Sky, Wiggins seems less sure. As far as he is concerned, he is aiming at a Giro-Tour double, as “a continual case of seeing what you’re capable of doing … It’s about exploration.”
Wiggins said Dave Brailsford, the team principal, will ultimately decide on the plan of attack. “I guess in the three days before [the Tour], that’s when Dave will have to make the decision about who we go with,” said Wiggins. “It will be Dave. Dave’s the man, isn’t he? He’s the guru.
“If I have an abysmal Giro and fall apart physically then it’s a bit of a no-brainer, really. But I don’t see that happening at this stage. You plan for the best case scenario, and that is that I win the Giro, come out of it, stay healthy, we do all the training camps, and Chris ends up winning the [Critérium du] Dauphiné, and we both arrive at the Tour in the best possible condition. Then Dave has to make the call.”
But as Wiggins said, it is all hypothetical. “That’s an ideal scenario, and it may not happen.”
Besides, Wiggins insisted he is not really thinking beyond Brescia on May 26. The prospect of tackling the Giro excites him, he said, precisely because it is so different to the Tour.
“It has a more relaxed feel,” he said, “but it’s a crazier atmosphere. The riders are more accessible than at the Tour. The fans tend to be more wild — and in love with the riders.
“You don’t get that — I don’t want to put the Tour down — but it’s very pompous at times, in terms of the fans. Half the fans come to see the riders and a lot just bump into the Tour and ask about dopers. There’s more spitting at the Tour and booing. Whereas the Giro is mad from start to finish, and I like that as a rider.”