As he rode away from the finish of the UCI Road World Championships team time trial at the weekend, Bradley Wiggins kept his comments to waiting reporters brief and to the point. "Yeah, I’ll give it a good nudge," he said of Wednesday’s individual event.
A rush and push on the hilly finale in Ponferrada later, and the top step of that podium was indeed his, as Wiggins halted Tony Martin’s reign as world individual time trial champion with a carefully-paced effort that saw him finish 26 seconds clear of the German.
From the very outset, it was clear that the race was going to be a straight duel between Wiggins and Martin, the final two riders down the start ramp and the men who have dominated global time trials over the past four seasons. Martin arrived seeking a fourth consecutive world title; Wiggins had two silver medals in that time, but denied his rival the Olympic gold in London two years ago.
It was tit for tat, too, over the opening half of the race. Martin led at the first time check after 12 kilometres, but had only pilfered 4 seconds. By the 23km mark, Wiggins had snatched those back and tacked on two more. The gap crept up to 9 seconds by the third split, and then over the hillier final ten kilometres, Wiggins’ chips kept piling up.
"I didn’t have any time splits until 5k to go because I felt it was really important to ride your own race and not change tactics after 12 kilometres because you were up or down," Wiggins said. "I had a game plan of what kind of power to ride for most of the way until we came up to that big road with 20k to go.
"By the time you turned onto the big highway road there was still 20 minutes to the top of the climb which is quite significant really, it’s where it was going to be won and lost, and that was always in the back of my mind."
When Wiggins reached the summit of the climb to Mirador, he was aware that he had established a lead over Martin, and he had to strike a balance between risk and reward on the drop to the finish line.
"When I got to the top of the climb they said I was ten seconds ahead of Tony and I sh*t myself. So then it was a case of not overly taking risks on the descent but at the same time not going too slow," he said, before adding a joking explanation for the benefit of his interpreter: "That’s sh*t your pants in Spanish."
Martin’s dominance against the watch in recent years has perhaps even outstripped that of Fabian Cancellara, when time trialling used to be at the head of his agenda, but the nature of the Ponferrada parcours meant that he travelled to north-western Spain with considerable optimism.
"On a course like this, it becomes about power to weight on those long drags," Wiggins said. "I really worked hard through the summer to get to my Tour racing weight, which is 72 kilos, so I knew that if I could sustain 470, 480 watts in that final, it was just self-explanatory that I would go faster. On this course, I thought I could beat him."
Ironically, Wiggins’ absence from Sky’s Tour de France line-up due to his uneasy coexistence with Chris Froome allowed him to tailor his preparation very specifically for the Worlds. While Martin lined up at both the Tour and the Vuelta a España, Wiggins arrived in Ponferrada with just 36 days of racing in his legs.
"I don’t regret it really. It was what it was," Wiggins said of his omission from the Tour. "It allowed me to prepare for this in a totally different way to Tony. I’ve only had 35 or 36 days of racing this year but a lot of specific training for this discipline. That’s helped me. There’s definitely a lot of freshness in me this year."
Roubaix and the Hour Record
At times, there was an almost valedictory feel about Wiggins’ post-race press conference, and not just because he bade his farewells before the interpreter could translate his final answer. "Thanks, but I’ve got a plane to catch and I need to get to anti-doping," he explained. The 2012 Tour winner has already intimated that his stage racing days were all but at an end, and he said that he was unlikely to return to the Worlds either, as his focus turns towards the team pursuit and the probably end of his career in Rio in 2016.
"I think this time next year we’re going to be less than a year from the Olympic Games and we’re going to be in full track mode for the team pursuit so going to America to do the Worlds, I don’t see it fitting in," he said. "Then post Rio I’m not going to go to Qatar to ride. I’ll be 37 by then anyway, I’ll be old enough to do the Masters Worlds, so this will be the last one."
Not that Wiggins’ road career has come to an end here in Ponferrada. The controls of Sky’s stage racing team are with Froome now, of course, but as he lay on his back by the hot seat at the finish and waited with eyes closed for confirmation of Martin’s time over the public address system, Wiggins saw – lest he had any doubts – that there is indeed life beyond the Tour de France.
Buoyed by his 9th place at Paris-Roubaix this spring, Wiggins will return to the cobbles next year with designs on winning the race, before switching tack for a tilt at the world hour record in the summer. Wiggins’ abandon of the 2013 Giro d’Italia led to an apparent down-scaling of his ambitions, yet he has hit the targets, modest and major, that have been set for him since.
"I’d love to win Roubaix and obviously I was up there this year," Wiggins said. "Off the back of that I’ll really focus on the hour record, rather than try to go for the hour record next week off the back of this. I want to really invest in this and do it as a project and do it as a project and get the most out of it. It will also give me something to do next year."