Bradley Wiggins (Sky) headed home from the Tour of Oman slightly disappointed by his own overall performance in the six-day race but convinced he has done the right thing by choosing different objectives and choosing the Giro d'Italia as his major goal of the season instead of a second Tour de France.
Wiggins lost 1:21 on stage one after being blocked by a late crash. Wiggins did not have the form or ambition to take on Contador, Nibali and Evans after training and racing hard the week before Tour of Oman and so he did his bit to help Chris Froome win overall.
"I was quite tired when I got here, especially on the first day, and it has not really got any better," Wiggins conceded in an interview with written media present in Oman.
"I kind of stayed where I was on that first day. When you come into a race with [training fatigue, you never know if you fly off it or if you’ll be mediocre, and I’ve been pretty mediocre…."
Wiggins is not worried about his form or lack of early season results. His approach to the 2013 season is radically different to 2012. With the Tour de France finally on his palmares after four years of trying, Wiggins has set himself a new challenge for 2013. It is not about winning every stage race he rides, it is not about learning how to win the Tour de France.
Instead, he will target the Giro d'Italia, have a go at Liège-Bastogne-Liège along the way in late April and perhaps try to complete a Giro-Tour double if he recovers well and if Froome's ambitions do not get in the way.
Wiggins seems almost relieved not to have to return to Paris-Nice, the Tour of Romandie and the Criterium du Dauphine, knowing that anything less than another victory could be considered a disappointment.
"I never thought for one minute I wanted to do it all again. It was more like: ‘No way, I ain’t doing all that again’. But I’ll do something else which is completely different and a new challenge, that for me was the Giro and other races along the way.
"I didn’t want to lack motivation at Paris-Nice and have direct comparison with last year all the time. There was only one outcome unless I won it all again and that would have been to fail. I really wanted to avoid that. I didn’t want to put that pressure on myself.
"I’ve committed to a completely different programme this year by targeting the Giro. Last year was about gaining the confidence through the year that I could actually win the Tour de France. Now there's a much more looking at the bigger picture of the season.
"We've worked back from that, and this period of racing and training is pretty important. Everything this year has been shuffled forward. It’s what April and May were last year for the Tour. I spent most of early January and February in Mallorca. It’s not about results but about getting the work in."
Wiggins will soon head to Tenerife with several teammates for a key block of controlled training at altitude.
He first real test of his form and first real objective will be the Volta a Catalunya (March 18-24). He will study some of the key Giro d'Italia stages and ride the Giro del Trentino (April 16-19) before probably teaming up with Froome to target Liège-Bastogne-Liège (April 20) and then taper for the Giro d'Italia (May 4-26).
"I had five races before the Tour and have five this year. Liège is two weeks out from the Giro, so you should be pretty ready to go.
Weight is a massive thing for me and Liège is all about power to weight and fitness. I’m 82kg in the off season, 75kg now and 70kg at the Tour. It takes me a long time to get there, a lot of hard work. But the plan is to be ready to go, two weeks out from the Giro, and so Liège-Bastogne-Liège fits in nicely."
Emotion is the base line, all the rest is science
Team Sky gives the impression that it is driven by science, logic and a desire to produce results, with little room for emotion and improvisation. It is about hitting the right numbers and discovering marginal gains, being different and better to the rest of the peloton.
Yet Wiggins seems to need emotions to find his motivation and fire up his mojo. He's more attracted by the Giro d'Italia, with the screaming tifosi and iconic maglia rosa, than another tilt at the Tour de France.
"Emotion is the baseline, then the next step is to get the machine ready to do the job," he explained.
"I’d love to be able to do these incredible escapes in the mountain, but the reality is that I’m not that good a climber, so I have to work hard, be meticulous about what I do, and that’s made me incredibly successful.
"The Giro is special for me. It goes back to my childhood. It was one of the few races on TV along with the Tour de France when I was a teenager. I grew up reading magazines about it and the Giro was always stuck in my mind. I particularly remember Hampsten climbing in the snow (in the 1988 Giro, over the Passo Gavia). It seemed quite inspirational.
"The Tour of Italy's just a lovely race. It's the only race in cycling where they never really mention doping in the whole race. It's kind of refreshing in some way when you’re there, for the racing, because the people come out and watch the sport and idolize the racers.
"I said I’d never go back there in 2010 because it was so hard. But I’ve always had a love-hate with it and always had a soft spot for it."
No 'What If…."
Wiggins is preparing for the Giro d'Italia one step at a time. It's pointless to ask him what he will do and how it will affect him, or if he doesn’t win the Giro d'Italia. But the problem is that Wiggins doesn't do 'What if…?'"
"I don’t try and think 'What if?', especially post match. What if I die tomorrow? It means we won’t have to worry about the Giro, I never look too far ahead. I used to do that and worry. But really, it's just about taking one step at a time."
This time towards the Giro d'Italia.