Shane Sutton, the technical director of the British Cycling team, has hinted that Bradley Wiggins needs to step up and improve his team pursuit speed if he is to secure a place in the final quartet for the Rio Olympic Games in 2016.
34-year-old Wiggins was not included in the Great Britain team for the London Track World Cup in early December and is apparently focused on targeting Paris-Roubaix next April before returning to focus on the track via an Hour Record attempt in June. He is expected to move from Team Sky to his own Continental team mid-2015 and begin focusing on the track.
Wiggins has six Olympic medals and won gold in the team pursuit in Beijing in 2008. He won gold in the time trial at the London 2012 Olympic Games just days after winning the Tour de France. Wiggins' success and popularity in Britain means he is one of the stars of British Cycling but Sutton warns that Wiggins will have to find the speed to be able to ride with his specialist team pursuit teammates and probably break the 3:50 barrier for the four kilometres if they want another gold medal in Rio.
"My job here is to win medals not friends," Sutton told TheTelegraph. "Brad will know that I'm sat here looking at his numbers and thinking: 'Right, Brad, this is going to be a big ask for you to make this team.' Listen, Brad has basically got a 55 (3:55:00 time) posted to his name from the semi in Beijing. Yes, we did a 53 in the final but were behind the back of the Danes for the last four laps. We went 51 in London two years ago. We are going to need to go quicker [in Rio], that is for sure.
"The bar needs to be raised. Whether Brad can raise the bar, that is the challenge he has set himself. Only Brad can answer that question."
Sutton admitted that his honesty and blunt analysis often gets him into trouble and seems to be using a stick as much as a carrot to motivate Wiggins. He knows that a focused Wiggins can be a huge asset to the Great Britain team in 2016.
"Just his presence has lifted the whole team. And the one thing in Brad's favour is that when he sets his mind to something, like he has here – setting up his team, wanting the fairy-tale ending – it is very hard to distract him from the goal he has set out to achieve. The final decision will be made purely on the evidence I have in front of me. Brad would want me to make that decision on that evidence. If he makes it, he makes it. If he doesn't, he doesn't."
Cavendish to target the Omnium?
Sutton is confident that Wiggins can build on his huge endurance base and find the speed and focus needed for the modern team pursuit. The straight-speaking Australian has replaced Dave Brailsford as the head of the dominant Great Britain team and spent the last six months finding his feet in the number one role.
Sutton has shuffled the GB coaching and support staff, with Heiko Salzwedel back coaching the men's endurance squad. Other British road riders are expected to return to the track for the Rio 2016 Games, with Sutton convinced that Mark Cavendish and fellow Britsih sprinter Ben Swift could ride the six-event Omnium because the road race course is likely to suit the climbers and Grand Tour contenders.
However it would mean Cavendish, who is riding the Gent Six this week, focusing on the track during the winter of 2015 and setting himself a double goal of the Tour de France sprints and the Olympics in the summer of 2016
"Cav is looking specifically at the omnium, as is Ben," Sutton confirmed. "They don't want to be add-ons to the team pursuit, which you can understand. So we are looking at that at this moment in time, with Heiko. And obviously Rod Ellingworth who has mentored Cav all of his career.
"That Omnium is set up so beautiful for them now with the change to the points race. I think it is a golden opportunity. I don't want Cav – who is going to leave this sport not just a great but a legend – to look back at the end of his career and say: 'Jeez, I should have went for that.'"