The worst-kept secret in cycling was confirmed last week when Team Sky announced they would become Team Ineos – bankrolled by Jim Ratcliffe, Britain’s richest man – from the Tour de Yorkshire in May.
Not only has the uncertainty around the team’s future been erased, reports suggest the biggest budget in pro cycling, standing at around £34m, will be significantly increased, handing more power to an outfit which has already won four of the past five Grand Tours.
Speaking on the second episode of the new series of The Bradley Wiggins Show, available on all major podcast providers including iTunes and Spotify this morning, the man who started Sky’s Grand Tour dominance with his Tour de France win in 2012 welcomed confirmation of Ratcliffe’s arrival in the sport.
“You have to think it's a brilliant thing for cycling,” said Wiggins. “One major backer go out, Sky, in terms of what they have done for cycling, and this one coming in replacing Sky... Obviously everyone is talking about the money input that Sky have put into it and this guy has now put more money in.
I did see a quote the other day which made me chuckle, and it was that 'Brailsford could put his hand down a toilet and pull chocolate out', which I thought was hilarious. He does seem to land on his feet.
That quote came from EF Education First general manager Jonathan Vaughters back in December, and he spoke out again last week regarding the Team Ineos deal, saying that, “You buy certainty. You're purchasing the ability to win. You're looking at an almost impenetrable wall of money. You can basically go buy all the best riders. The question for the sport is if they are all on one team, is it fun for spectators to watch?”
Ratcliffe’s injection of cash has led to a debate around imposing a salary cap or budget cap on pro cycling teams. UCI president David Lappartient even said, “that’s something that can be discussed.”
But Wiggins does not feel that reining in rider income is the answer.
“It's hard to sit here and try and not be hypocritical and say they should have salary caps, because when we were riders you want to make as much as you can, when you can, because it is such a short career,” he said.
“It's only 20 years ago that Bjarne Riis was on €200,000 when he won the Tour in '96. When you consider that now with what these guys are on. Even 10 years ago, the likes of Andy Schleck would only have been on €1m, now these guys are earning €4m. You can't sit here now and say, 'we need to have a salary cap just to make it better'.
“One of the things I will say for Dave is that he has always said, 'I don't follow what the sport is doing now, I want to try and envisage what I want the sport to look like in 10 years' time and try and do that now'. That's quite visionary and other people won't think like that. Obviously you need the money to do that as well. So with their office blocks, buses, kitchens and every rider's own washing machine, all of that, it's so far advanced of what some teams are thinking - French systems with a baguette and a can of coke at the finish. There are two worlds.
“You can say that it's spoiling the sport. Is Dave the one who has got the problem? Or is it that everyone else needs to catch up with them? It's a tough one at this stage and the void is just getting bigger and bigger on a Grand Tour level. But what I will say is that on the one-day stage it is just as competitive.”
Wiggins was joined on the show by 2004 Paris-Roubaix winner Magnus Backstedt, who also feels that salary caps are not the answer to addressing Sky’s dominance of the Grand Tours.
“Where Team Sky are in stage racing, Deceuninck-Quick Step are in one-day races,” said Backstedt. “So we have got to have a look at that as well. Are you allowed to have that many one-day specialist riders in a team? I don't think we can start controlling the racing from a money point of view, it has got to be done on the bike. And I personally feel that if you are behind and you are chasing, you have just got to chase harder.
If there is a salary cap for everyone, the best organised team will still be where all the main, big riders will go anyway. Looking at what they do, their structure and everything around the riders, [Sky] do that probably the best in the world at the moment. So with that, the riders like Egan Bernal, Ivan Sosa, they are choosing that team because of what they do and how they do it.
"Capping the salary, I'm not sure it will work - at the same time there are a lot of riders out there and teams out there who if they have £40m given to them, they wouldn't say, 'no thanks, I'll just have £20m'. If the money is there then it has to be taken into the sport.”
Listen to the full episode of The Bradley Wiggins show for more on
- Julian Alaphilippe’s triumph at Milan-Sanremo
- The Classics season and what makes Paris-Roubaix so special
- Why Wiggins grew sick of professional cycling
- And what life after cycling looks like for two former pros…