Team GB technical director Shane Sutton has said that Sir Bradley Wiggins is not guaranteed a place in Britain’s team pursuit line-up having rejoined Britain’s track squad preparing for next year’s Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games.
"Do I think Brad can make it? Yes, of course I do. Is it a given? No," Sutton said when asked about Wiggins’ prospects of gaining selection for the four-man team. "He’s going to have to work for it because I’m very confident in the group we’ve got. Brad coming in has strengthened that group, but it doesn’t by any means guarantee him a place."
Speaking to Cyclingnews at the National Cycling Centre in Manchester, Sutton described Wiggins as having "all of the tools in the box" required to make the four-man pursuit team and bring the curtain down on his racing career with a fourth Olympic title and record-setting eighth medal for UK athlete. He added that having Wiggins back in the track endurance squad had given everyone a huge lift.
"Brad has slotted back into the team pursuit set-up really well. I think we went through a five-week period when he was asking, ‘Do I want this? Do I need this?’ But he’s put all that to bed and he really wants it. He wants to leave this sport as the greatest [UK] Olympian of all time," said Sutton.
He then expanded on the challenge that Wiggins faces as he builds towards gaining selection for the Rio Games in a year’s time. According to Sutton, as well as very strong competition for places, Wiggins will also need to readjust to the particular demands of the team pursuit.
"There are no guarantees that he will get selection for the team pursuit because we’ve got an incredibly strong squad. We’ve got medal experience with Ed [Clancy], Burkey [Steven Burke] and Andy Tennant, who was the fifth member of the squad in London. What they are doing right now is making sure that they will be at their absolute best," said Sutton.
"They know that they’ve got to be on their game, and they’ve really applied themselves well. The paradigm shift of the endurance squad over the last six months under the guidance of [endurance coach] Heiko Salzwedel has been incredible. To go to the Worlds and lose it by the odd tenth having been seventh the year before just shows that if you apply yourself you can do anything."
Sutton explained that the key to Wiggins’ having a successful return to the track is regaining top-end power. "He’s obviously got a big endurance base with the road, the Hour and everything else, so it’s just a matter of making sure he’s got the top end.
"These guys start very rapidly and if there’s any danger area for Brad it’s in that first kilo. So when it comes to getting away off the line he’ll be looking at his torque – that’s the area where he can really develop," said Sutton.
"We’ll need to make sure we don’t do too much damage off the line. That’s the only area for concern. Once he gets under way and settles then he will be a great anchorman. We’ll be looking towards him filling the fourth slot for sure."
Sutton pointed towards the difficulties that Australia’s 2004 Olympic pursuit champion Brad McGee faced when he returned to the track for the 2008 Games, where he failed to win a medal in either the individual or the team event.
"It’s not easy if you step away for a long time. These guys are popping around in 3-55s and 3-56s. You’ve always got concerns with the technical side," said Sutton. "But in Brad’s case you won’t have any concerns at all. He’s got all of the tools in the box to do the job. It’s just a matter of enhancing certain ones."
Sutton, who described Wiggins as "undoubtedly Britain’s greatest sportsman of all time, if not one of the greatest in the world" is very confident the 2012 Tour de France winner will sign off his racing career with a winning flourish. "You know what he’s like. When he latches on to something like this team pursuit, he’ll do everything in his power to make sure he’s ready."