The Music Man And The Machine: When Wiggins And Froome Went Head To Head

In 2012, the 99th Tour De France was won by Sir Bradley Wiggins
06:55, 21 Jul 2021

Brits, find a better sporting highlight reel than that of 2012. We dare you. 

Simply put, it was an obscene year for manufacturing sporting heroism. A constantly churning conveyor belt. Take a deep breath:

Owen Farrell at Twickenham as England defeated the All Blacks; Didier Drogba’s decisive spot-kick to win the Champions League for Chelsea; Frankel in the Lockinge Stakes for the first of an incredible five wins of the season, Sergio Agüero striking at the death to win the Premier League title for Manchester City; Monty Panesar dismissing Sachin Tendulkar in Mumbai; Rory McIlroy winning the US PGA Championship; Andy Murray becoming the first Brit to reach the Wimbledon men's singles final in 74 years and bagging his first Grand Slam with the US Open to partner his Olympic gold.

Oh yeah, the Olympics. We almost forgot. Of course there was the Games of the XXX Olympiad. Held in London. Just the 29 golds for the hosts. Jessica Ennis, Greg Rutherford, Mo Farah, Ben Ainslie, Nick Skelton, Jason Kenny, Alistair Brownlee, Laura Trott, Chris Hoy, Nicola Adams, Mo Farah, Anthony Joshua. Super Saturday. Shall we go on?

The Queen couldn’t get her sword out quick enough.

And top of that New Year Honours List, the man who had arguably the greatest 2012 of them all. Another recipient of a shiny gold - his third, incidentally - in the capital, and the winner of that year’s Tour de France.

For the first time in 99 years since the competition began, a British man had pedalled his way to victory down the Champs Élysées. After 3,497km (2,172 miles) across 21 stages in three-weeks, from the 20 teams and 198 riders, atop the Parisian podium, Bradley Wiggins had made history.

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“Right. We're just going to draw the raffle numbers,” he joked with microphone in hand, to the bemusement of those lost in translation in the French crowd amidst the swarm of Union flags.

As Britain became the 13th nation to provide a Tour de France winner, Wiggins had set a new British record for the most number of days spent in the yellow jersey, with 13, racing for Team Sky, whose roster allowed for the first time ever for four different British riders to win stages in the same edition of the race.

Notably it was also the first time that a Briton has stood on the second step of the podium at the Tour. For staring up at Wiggins, was his Team Sky teammate, his cycling rival and in many ways cyclic per contra Chris Froome: although the two men shared the same Sky uniform they were a world apart in style and attitude.  

Wiggins was the music man, pedalling a sweet, sweet tune on his bike. Froome was the machine. Wiggins was the collector of Gibson and Fender guitars and Lambretta and Vespa scooters, the rider adorned with Mod insignia, not least those sideburns. Though from across the Channel, he endeared himself to the French congregation roadside. He was anointed "Colonel Wiggo" and "Le Gentleman", having respected the defending Tour champion Cadel Evans by slowing the peloton to wait for the Australian rider who had been beset by punctures at the top of the Mur de Péguère. Even on the final day Wiggins had garnered fans for his selflessness, adopting the role of a pace-maker and risking potential accidents for his Team Sky colleague Mark Cavendish to allow the Manx Missile for a bunch sprint in the capital. 

Then there was Froome. Robotic, determined, talented Froome would get his chance the following year. As one of those four aforementioned stage-winning British riders, he had won his own stage, number seven, on La Planche des Belles Filles, but ultimately he would have to wait for his spotlight, something that he would only relinquish once on the Tour over the next five years. It was also something he hadn’t wanted to sacrifice in 2012. Being the groupie to Wiggins’ rockstar didn’t sit well. 

Froome had purportedly been unhappy with the leadership appointment of Wiggins as Sky mounted their challenge for the most prestigious event in competitive cycling. This culminated in him launching  an infamous attack on La Toussuire when he was supposed to be the ‘super-domestique’ for Wiggins challenge. During stage eleven, Wiggins was virtually left alone as Froome decided to surge ahead, before being ordered back by his team.

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Sky consequently had to frantically attempt to dispel rumours of internal conflict, with Wiggins and Froome both presenting cordial - though rather sterile - explanations to journalists post-stage.

“They asked me to slow down,” Froome said about his team after the finish, and maintained that “Our plan is to look after Bradley and I’m here to do that.”

When Wiggins was asked whether the attack was planned and who called Froome back, he said: “I didn’t call him back, I didn’t have my radio in at that point, my piece had fallen out. But we talked about Chris maybe attacking in the final.”

Wiggins was further pressed on his teammate’s manoeuvre, deftly deflecting. “I was really concentrating on my effort and keeping it constant,” Wiggins stated, “I’d been riding for two kilometres beforehand. I didn’t want to make any more of an acceleration but there was a lot of noise, a lot of things going on the radio and a bit of confusion at that point.

“[Froome] showed today that he certainly had the legs. It was another great day for the team.”

Indeed, it wasn’t the first time Wiggins would credit the members of his team, and single out Froome, for his success.

“This is a star team. We’ve got the world champion, and each rider, in their own right, is capable of something in the Tour de France,” Wiggins said on a Sky Procycling rest day in 2012, the year the team took a total of 47 victories in the season, before declaring Froome “one of the biggest talents in cycling.”

However, that attempt to dispel rift rumours was thwarted by the riders’ respective staunchest supporters, namely their respective wives, Catherine Wiggins and Michelle Froome, as the Tour de France fight to the finish became a family affair.

Michelle took the first shot, massaging her poor Chris’ sore shoulders by reflecting on La Toussuire furore, “Teamwork is also about giving the people around you, that support you, a chance to shine in their own right.” Catherine immediately fired back, offering a retort that praised Team Sky, whilst omitting Chris Froome. Michelle wasn’t happy. "If you want loyalty, get a Froome dog, a quality I value although being taken advantage of by others” she took to Twitter to poke. 

It wouldn’t be the last time the wives waded into the rivalry, with Michelle reportedly furious that Bradley didn’t congratulate Froome on his Tour de France victory in 2013, and Catherine later comically deeming Chris ‘a slithering reptile’. Don’t mess with a velo-WAG. Who knew the world of competitive cycling could be so toxic?

Wiggins of course went on to cement his place in history, was subsequently awarded a knighthood, and was declared Sports Personality of the Year by 2012’s end. The following December he would become Sir Bradley, adapting to the accolade with typical humility - "I've won a bike race, you know, and I feel a little bit inferior to everyone, really,” he said after he was bestowed the honour.

Froome the bridesmaid became the bride with Tour de France wins in 2013, 2015, 2016, and 2017. A further attempt in 2018 for a record-equalling fifth didn’t bear fruit.

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The same year, Wiggins finally admitted that he and Froome didn’t quite see eye-to-eye at Team Sky.

When talkSPORT presenter Jim White enquired of Wiggins whether Froome was ‘a pal’, the knight of the realm responded directly: “No.”

“No. I have a huge amount of respect for him as an athlete but, as people, we never got on.”

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