PARIS (AP) — The director of the Tour de France expects Bradley Wiggins to come roaring back in 2014 after not defending his crown in this year's race that starts in just over a week.
"I think he'll have his motivation back and be back," Christian Prudhomme said in an interview Tuesday in his Paris office. Elite athletes, he noted, "can fall very low but rebound very quickly."
The first two stages in 2014 run through Yorkshire in northeast England, with the third going from Cambridge to London, so Wiggins will be on home ground.
"I think he'll be very strong," Prudhomme said.
With a sore left knee ruling Wiggins out of this year's race, Prudhomme identified the Briton's teammate at Sky, Chris Froome, as the rider to beat this July at the 100th edition of cycling's showcase race.
"I think it will be Froome and Sky against the rest of the world."
Prudhomme warned that the first stages on the French island of Corsica could be treacherous. After a flat opening stage on June 29 that British sprinter Mark Cavendish, among others, will have his eye on, the race ventures over more jagged terrain inland and up the island's west coast. From Corsica, the Tour crosses to the French mainland.
"Those who haven't scouted out the Corsican stages will have made a big mistake. On the evening of the first stage, they'll be telling themselves, "It's all flat!" Prudhomme said. "Two days later they will have understood why the automobile Tour of Corsica is called 'the rally of 10,000 bends.' Not only does it go up and down, it turns all the time."
In the 12 months since Wiggins became the first Briton to win the Tour, Lance Armstrong admitted in January that he doped for all seven of his Tour wins from 1999-2005. Those titles have been stripped from him and not reattributed. Armstrong told talk-show host Oprah Winfrey that doping was routine for him, part of the job.
"The picture of cycling we saw this winter is not the picture of cycling today. It is the picture of cycling in the past, even if it is a recent past," Prudhomme said.
He said the "the fundamental difference" between the Armstrong era and now is cycling's pioneering introduction five years ago of its so-called biological passport. That consists of blood tests over time on riders to look for abnormal readings and variations that could point to doping, triggering either more tests or disciplinary action if the proof of cheating is strong enough.
"Cycling is no longer the ugly duckling," Prudhomme maintained. He suggested the sport deserves more credit for its anti-doping measures.
"In all sports, there are good people, real champions, and cheats," he said. "Cycling cheated before the other sports, more than the others, but it got things under control. When the police catch thieves, we congratulate them. When cycling catches cheats, people say, 'there are still things going on.'"
Speaking to reporters in the south coast city of Nice, Froome said Tuesday that the onus is on today's riders to show that they're not like Armstrong.
"The revelations from Armstrong last year were a big hit to all of us, the fans, the professionals still in the sport now. We are all being painted with the same brush if you like," said the 2012 Tour's runner-up. "It is a completely different cycling to that era. There are new methods of training, new methods on nutrition. We are working really hard to get the results that we are getting, so it is up to us now to show the fans that this is how cycling has changed."
Froome identified Alberto Contador as "my biggest rival at this point." Contador was stripped of his 2010 Tour win for a failed doping test.
"To be labeled the favorite never sits comfortably for me. It is not a position I like to think of myself being in," Froome said. "I am fully aware that once we get to Corsica, then none of the races we have done in the build-up to the Tour de France mean anything anymore. Everyone starts on zero, so I think if we can get there and just stay focused on the race, then hopefully things should go according to plan."
AP video journalist Ben Barnier contributed from Nice, France.