Why winning bike races can make you unpopular with the public

A lot of flak is hovering around the Team Sky bus right now with questions about transparency, employees and results going off all over.

Bradley Wiggins is the most obvious target of much of the incoming fire, in particular over his hotheaded outburst in a press conference and his perceived indifference to the question of doping now that he is leading the Tour de France.

Richard Moore, writing for Cycle Sport, asks what has changed? Wiggins’ reply is as illuminating as it has been ignored:

“I suppose as I’ve got more successful, I’ve almost got to the point where I don’t care about [doping] any more. Because what I’m doing is so time consuming and intense, I can’t be worrying about all that other stuff.”

Part of what Dr Steve Peters has instilled in every sporting star he has worked with is the need to remove ‘negative’ influence and the associated doubts from the competitive mindset.

What we’re seeing with Wiggins now is nothing more than this. The blocking of people who raise questions or criticise him? That’s just removing doubt and uncertainty from his mind and allowing him to focus on winning the Tour.

I’ve heard this from other athletes who have been the “go to” person on a topic or who have rung the bell for change: there comes a point when it becomes mentally exhausting to the point of detriment.

Ultimately, he is avoiding wasting energy on the questioning of his own achievements. This is as negative externally as it is internally reassuring for the athlete.

You can see it reflected in another reply he gave a couple of days later:

“I’m not some shit rider who has just came from nowhere. I’ve been three times Olympic champion on the track. People have to realise what kind of engine you need to win an Olympic gold medal as an individual pursuiter.”

Think of it this way: there are times when as a parent (not that I am one) you need to ignore the kids shouting “Mum/Dad can I have a lolly?” on infinite loop and concentrate on not putting the car in the ditch.

There may be lots of things that Sky can do to diffuse the transparency timebomb that is ticking underneath them:

  • Bernie Eisel having a massage video
  • Christian Knees nobbly knees photo diary (a different face on each knee every day)
  • E-Bo-A-Go-Go: the secret life of Edvald as a podium dancer
  • Chris Froome sings The Lion Sleeps Tonight with Richie Porte and Mick Rogers doing the a-wim-ba-we bits

But to expect divert significant energy to answering questions about Wiggins track record or career progress is not something they will want to do.

Now that might not endear them to fans or journalists, but honestly, if you were in their shoes, would you waste a single breath on anything that didn’t win you the race?

Come Paris, if they’re still not willing to talk, then it becomes a real issue.

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