Recently, Bradley Wiggins left his contract with Garmin-Slipstream (now Garmin-Transitions for 2010) a year early to join upstart British Pro Tour Team Sky, letting him race for a native team alongside fellow Beijing Gold medal winner Geraint Thomas.
Sky reportedly bought out his remaining contract from Garmin for Ã‚Â£2 million, then gave him a four-year contract for an undisclosed sum of money.Ã‚Â My guess is, given the amount spent just to jailbreak him, it’s a pretty good deal.Ã‚Â Of course, with this, some media outlets likened the move to that of other pro sports like Football, Basketball and Baseball, where team loyalties are nothing more than minor hindrances overcome by large corporate and team checkbooks.
Wiggins, for his part, likely made the move to ride for his home country and the chance to be the star of the team as much as for the money.Ã‚Â He already made for some rabid fandom in the UK this past Summer as he rode to 4th place in the Tour de France, tying the highest ever placement for a Brit.Ã‚Â And he’s sure to increase the viewership in 2010 as he battles for a top podium spot.Ã‚Â Heck, Lance Armstrong’s even been overheard saying Wiggins is a rider that could deny him a podium spot.
If you’re thinking it was in poor taste for him to leave Garmin, keep in mind that Armstrong and a big chunk of his new Team RadioShack riders basically gave up on Astana immediately following the Tour this year, breaking protocol by announcing the new team before the UCI’s rules even allowed such announcements.Ã‚Â Sure, Astana wasn’t paying the bills reliably, and the team dynamics were in shambles, but if one rider’s going to be chastised for changing jerseys while under contract, they all should be.
Would anyone argue that any of these riders would be better off staying with their old teams?Ã‚Â Is it going to be more exciting watching Lance and Contador battle it out without the false pretense of supporting each other?Ã‚Â Is Wiggins going to be a homeland rockstar that drives his country to pay attention to cycling?
You bet.Ã‚Â And along the way, if more contracts, dollars, buyouts and (non-doping related) controversy continue to put cycling’s star riders in the mainstream news, do you think that’s good for the sport?Ã‚Â Absolutely.
Why?Ã‚Â Because, as the old maxim goes, bad press is better than no press, and the negative is soon forgotten.Ã‚Â In the end, cycling becomes ever so slightly more mainstream and a bigger part of the public consciousness.Ã‚Â All of us sit around dreaming of the day major cycling events are covered on TV with the same fervor as ball-related sports are.Ã‚Â And wouldn’t it be great if water cooler talk danced around who outsprinted who?Ã‚Â Can you imagine the same friends that gather for beer swilling BBQ’s to pick their Fantasy Football teams meeting in June to finalize their Fantasy Tour de France roster over seared meat and Fat Tire Ale?
If these guys are going to be regular pro athlete fodder for SportsCenter, they better start acting like it.