CYCLING'S longest simmering feud is threatening to reach boiling point once again - but it's not the men in the saddles stoking the flames.
Bradley Wiggins lines up at the start of the three-week Giro d'Italia tomorrow for what he hopes will culminate in the first leg of a Grand Tour double having stated his determination to go on and defend his Tour de France title come June. That announcement earlier in the week outraged Michelle Cound, the fiancée of his teammate and rival Chris Froome, runner-up in Paris last year who played a supporting role in the historic win.
Following the barbed exchange with Cath Wiggins during the 2012 Tour, inevitable dubbed 'War of the Wags', Cound is lobbing more toxic tweets in the Wiggins camp's direction.
In a tweet hastily deleted overnight on Thursday, she said there were "blatant lies from Brad" in an article by respected cycling journalist William Fotheringham. The 33-year-old Olympic champion had said that Team Sky "may run with both of us" referring to possible co-leadership of the nine-strong Tour de France team this summer.
In cycling's blue riband event, teams with grand classification intentions all tend to ride in the support of one man yet Britain and Team Sky are blessed with two world-class riders at the peak of their powers. Wiggins said the leader would not be decided until just days before the Grand Depart in Corsica on 29 June. Froome rushed out a statement reiterating he had been assured by management the number one spot is his.
Tensions are extremely high. Wiggins stonewalled any questions about Froome and the Tour at the official Giro launch in Naples on Thursday telling reporters to talk to Team Sky boss Sir Dave Brailsford. He is staying silent, which cannot be said for Cound. She demanded: "I look forward to @TeamSky clearing up this mess (ASAP) #fedup."
Cound added to the intrigue yesterday by tweeting: "Everything is being resolved." But in whose favour is anyone's guess.
Team Sky is privately briefing that Wiggins is their number one for the Giro and Froome team leader for the Tour. Keeping her counsel too, at the moment, is Mrs Wiggins having deleted her twitter account in the aftermath of defending her husband's one-fingered salute to paparazzi when he left hospital having been knocked over by a Porsche during a training ride last November.
Wiggins and Froome's rivalry is fast becoming the most bitter in sport, surpassing that of Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber in Formula One. In a nod to the tensions in the Red Bull team, Cound tweeted a quote from Vettel last month that he "may disobey orders again" after the driver ignored advice to stay behind and support Webber at the Malaysian grand prix in April. "That must be one happy team environment *lol*" she said, believing it is now Wiggins's turn to support Froome in France.
Cound even hinted earlier this week that she did not expect the pair to race together. "Chris & Brad on the same start line, in the same kit? Mmmmmm… doubt it!" she said, adding: "To those claiming that this Wiggins/Froome thing is some sort of publicity stunt, you are wrong."
Cound, a cycling photographer, is trampling on anyone who defends Wiggins's right to retain the yellow jersey. Fotheringham declared that Wiggins's statement on his summer intentions earlier in the week had been "very nuanced". He added: "Why would he not want to win the Tour?"
Cound pounced. "Sounds like @willfoth is a bit of a puppet in all of this…" she tweeted. That too has since been deleted.
Having spent the day with Froome on a recon mission of the mighty Mont Ventoux, one of the Tour de France’s toughest climbs that riders will face on stage 15 this year, Cound told the Independent “everything should be clarified by the team by tomorrow.”
Just like their partners - Wiggins grew up in Kilburn, Froome in Nairobi - the women are equally strong characters with disparate backgrounds. Born in Wales, Cound spent the first five years of her life in Port Talbot until she and her family moved to South Africa. She and Froome now divide their time between there and Monaco - "a shithole", Wiggins said last year when asked if he would leave ever leave the UK. "I couldn't think of a worse place to live."
Cath Wiggins has stayed close to her Lancastrian roots. Her home is Eccleston, close to the Pennines, with her husband and their children Ben and Isabella. Cath had been a sprinter in the GB junior cycling squad in 1997 and still competes. She won two gold medals at a British Cycling tournament during the three weeks Wiggins was winning in France. She is also fiercely defensive of her husband and allegedly had to be restrained from confronting the woman who knocked him over during that training accident last year.
She refused to stay silent during last year's Tour when an angry Cound commented on events during a stage of the Tour in the Pyrenees. Froome, who had accelerated away from Wiggins dragging key rivals with him, was ordered on the team radio to slow down to allow his team-mate to catch up and retain the overall lead.
"Teamwork is also about giving people around you, that support you, a chance to shine in their own right," Cound tweeted. Cath congratulated Sky riders Mick Rogers and Richie Porte for "genuine, selfless effort and true professionalism" in a tweet of her own, pointedly omitting Froome's name. "Typical!" replied Cound.
Referring to their partners in an interview earlier this year, Froome said: "Obviously they had rubbed each other up the wrong way. That's life. Not everyone is going to see things in the same light."
One year on, dim views are being taken about Tour tactics once again.