Perhaps the only similarity between Tour de France leader Brad Wiggins and the man who won this race seven times is that they both speak their minds—except that Wiggins has no modesty in using his Cockney curses at press conferences that go around the world. Lance Armstrong usually reserves his more colorful language for one-on-one chats that don’t get broadcast.
So it was ironic Sunday evening that when Associated Press reporter Jamey Keaten said to Wiggins that in view of the fact that writers on Twitter were comparing Team Sky with Armstrong’s dominant U. S. Postal squad of the 2000s, did the yellow jersey have any comments to make to those cynics who said that you can’t win the Tour de France without being doped to the gills? You’ve probably read Wiggo’s reply. It was out on the Web minutes after he gave it.
Suffice to say, his answer was almost identical to what Armstrong said (slightly more politely) at a press conference when he took his first yellow jersey in 1999 after winning the prologue at Puy de Fou. Partly in reference to the previous Tour’s Festina Affair, when the French team was excluded from the Tour because of admitted organized doping. “Remarks are made assuming we’re all doped. That’s bullshit. I’m here, and I hope the other 179 riders are here, to see cycling reassert itself and to reassure people that we are champions."
And at Paris in 2005, after winning his seventh Tour title, Armstrong said: “The last thing I’ll say to the people who don’t believe in cycling, the cynics and skeptics: I’m sorry for you. I’m sorry you can’t dream big. I’m sorry you don’t believe in miracles. But this is one helluva race, and there are no secrets. This is a hard sport and it is hard work [that] wins it.” [That “miracle” comment was in reference to his recovery from stage 4 cancer and returning to cycling and winning seven consecutive Tours.]
Wiggins has always been outspoken about riders who dope, and he even threatened to quit cycling at the 2007 Tour after his then team, Cofidis, pulled out of the race when its Italian rider, Cristian Moreni, admitted to using artificial testosterone. So the remarks Sunday by Team Sky’s lanky leader were not unexpected—he was just talking from the heart. When Armstrong was also wearing the Tour’s yellow jersey and also had harsh words for the “cynics and skeptics” that pulled down cycling, the media were split between belief and disbelief.
There’s been a climate change in how pro racers view drugs in the past five years or so. They have moved on. But when I asked colleagues in the press room later Sunday, they said they feel that the media corps at the Tour is still just as split, 50-50, between those who believe the Tour leader is clean and those who don’t. Or won’t. Whatever. Let’s just hope we have as good a race Monday in the Besançon time trial as we did Sunday in the Swiss Jura. I’ll write about those stages later on.