At the GP Ouest-France Plouay this Sunday, Bradley Wiggins (Team Sky) will begin a block of racing that he hopes can bring a successful end to a rollercoaster year. Wiggins won’t be vying for victory at the weekend - with Edvald Boasson Hagen likely to be the favoured rider - but the subsequent Tour of Britain and World Championships feature highly on former Tour winner's radar.
Wiggins had hoped to follow fellow time triallist Tony Martin and ride the Vuelta a España in preparation for the worlds, but is happy to be riding at home and defending his Tour of Britain title. "Sky are in the Vuelta to win it now and if they were leading the race and I had to pull out with a week to go, that wouldn’t be right," he told the Guardian newspaper.
"It will be good to be there [ed. Tour of Britain] with the number one on my back, because I didn’t get to do that with some of the other stage races I’ve won."
The key to Wiggins’ victory at last year’s Tour of Britain was the 16.1-kilometre time trial through Knowsley Safari Park. The Sky rider held a 37 second advantage over teammate Ian Stannard at the end of the day, but that advantage was slowly ebbed away and by London he was leading Martin Elmiger by 26 seconds. This year, the time trial is the first of two stages on the final day and has been cut by almost half.
Wiggins admits that this makes defending his title a little harder. "I won’t be able to take much time there, 15-30 seconds maybe, so it will be a question of staying close to everyone, finishing in front on the Tumble (the stage 3 summit finish), then go into the last stage close up and try to poach it on the last day."
Following the Tour of Britain, Wiggins will be turning his attention to the World Championships in Ponferrada, where he hopes to add a gold medal to the silvers he took in 2011 and 2013. Despite a year that has seen him not ride a Grand Tour for the first time since 2004, Wiggins believes that he can take the fight to current champion Tony Martin.
"I’m probably ahead of where I was last year… Last year, I was constantly trying to rebuild after having that time out with injury, but I’ve had a more consistent season this year," he explains. "Although Tony dominated it, over that distance, 46 seconds isn’t that much per kilometre if you break it down."
This year’s time trial is around 800 metres shorter than that of the test in Florence last year, at 57.1 kilometres. However, it is much more demanding with a lot of elevation changes, including a 13 per cent descent. The route is also more technical. Wiggins believes that these factors could play into his hands, but isn’t counting his chickens yet. "This year it’s more rolling, and hillier in the finale so I’ll have a better chance. It will be the same three or four riders again – Fabian Cancellara, Tony, Chris and me – and on any given day it can be any one of us."
Mentions of the hour record have likely gone up ten-fold in the past two seasons, compared with the proceeding decade. All three of last year’s world time trial medallists have put their hat in the ring for a potential bid at the record which has stood since 2005. Cancellara has come closest, with Trek announcing that he would attempt it this year - although that was put on hold in May with no sign of it being put back on.
With Wiggins choosing to step back from the road after this season, it could open a window for the Olympic track champion to give it a go. "If I pencil it in, it will be in late June because of the good weather and it leads on from Paris-Roubaix and the training for that," said Wiggins.
"I’d like to rejuvenate it, re-establish a mark for everyone to attempt. You can’t under-estimate how hard it is. I spoke with Miguel Indurain about it; he said he had only three weeks to do it after the Tour – 1994 - and he hadn’t ridden the track before, but he wanted his name on the list of holders."
Though he admitted that the technical developments that came through in the late 90s and early 2000s turned him off the record. "After that record (Chris Boardman’s in 1996) everybody said there was no point any more, because it had gone too far with the equipment. It was almost the end of an era.
"I was never a fan of it – I could see the challenge of comparing yourself with Eddy Merckx but the equipment wasn’t the same. For Chris Boardman’s record – in 2000 - he wasn’t wearing a helmet like Eddy’s, and he had overshoes not clips and straps. It looked similar but wasn’t the same."