Why Bradley Wiggins’ Move to Team Sky is Good for the Sport

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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 £2 million, then gave him a four-year contract for an undisclosed sum of money.  My guess is, given the amount spent just to jailbreak him, it’s a pretty good deal.  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.  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.  And he’s sure to increase the viewership in 2010 as he battles for a top podium spot.  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.  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.

Or not.

Would anyone argue that any of these riders would be better off staying with their old teams?  Is it going to be more exciting watching Lance and Contador battle it out without the false pretense of supporting each other?  Is Wiggins going to be a homeland rockstar that drives his country to pay attention to cycling?

You bet.  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?  Absolutely.

Why?  Because, as the old maxim goes, bad press is better than no press, and the negative is soon forgotten.  In the end, cycling becomes ever so slightly more mainstream and a bigger part of the public consciousness.  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.  And wouldn’t it be great if water cooler talk danced around who outsprinted who?  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.

Comments

Clive de Sousa - 12/14/09 - 11:16am

Fantastic to see cycling get this type of coverage, what can we say about the mod outfit though?

bruce - 12/14/09 - 9:41pm

Are you kidding me?

Let’s propose another scenario – what if I come up with 50 million dollars a year to sponsor a protour team. what’s my first move? start buying riders and staff. of course, it’s not always about the money, but in the current state of cycling there is zero committment to honor contracts.

Take MLB, NBA, NHL, NFL – all have a collective bargaining agreements and strict guidelines for free agency. Cycling needs this or else the market for contracted riders will look like…who knows! It’s a major problem if any rider can more or less break any contract they agree to, whenever they want.

And what about sky’s holier than now stance on ethics and doping? There actually are rules against contacting contracted riders in cycling, unfortunately Brailsford and sky seem to have forgotten. More importantly, more likely, they’ve realized that none of their audience and fan base will ever notice or care.

Touche DB!

Come 2012 I’ll buy wiggins for 20 million a year – whether it’s rational or not – what goes around comes around.

lucybears - 12/15/09 - 10:29am

“but if one rider’s going to be chastised for changing jerseys while under contract, they all should be.”

All the other moves involving under contract riders were amicable arrangements between teams. Astana were glad to get rid of Bruyneel & LA after their behaviour at the Tour. Contrast this with Sky and their pursuit of Wiggins & Swift.

on Wiggins leaving Garmin
Vaughters “It was not the outcome I wanted at all,” he said. “We did everything we could to keep him happy and with us, and we stretched the organization as far as we could. But we are not one of the larger-budgeted ProTour teams.”
The decision to settle, he added, was “based on the fact that I did not feel that going into a protracted legal battle was good for the team and the athletes I should be concentrating on and supporting,”
“My energy is better spent on something else than a legal battle with James Murdoch.”
“The legal resources Sky has at its disposal are quite large.”
http://bicycling.com/blogs/boulderreport/2009/12/10/garmin-reacts-to-wiggins-departure/

on Swift leaving Katusha
Confusion continues to surround Ben Swift, the young British cyclist who was announced in the Team Sky line-up for the opening event of the 2010 season. Swift was named at the weekend by organisers of next month’s Tour Down Under as one of Sky’s seven riders but is under contract to another team, Katusha.
“Ben Swift is a Katusha rider until the end of 2010,” said the Russian team’s spokesman Andrea Agostini yesterday. “We have shown his contract to the UCI [International Cycling Union] and it is very clear. We have never talked to Sky or to Ben Swift’s agent. We have a training camp starting on 10 December and we expect him to be there.”
Dave Brailsford, the Team Sky principal, said the new British squad “acted in good faith” in submitting Swift’s name to Tour Down Under organisers.
http://www.guardian.co.uk/sport/2009/dec/07/ben-swift-team-sky

lucybears - 12/15/09 - 10:31am

Dave Brailsford
25 September 2009
“There are two or three more spots to fill on our roster and we have our eyes on a few riders,” he told BBC Sport.
“But key British riders are maybe under contract and we’ve got to respect that.”

[...] their recruiting tactics may set them back a bit on the “admiration” scale as they get going, their strong [...]

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