Bradley Wiggins said Friday that success at the Tour of California is a top priority for Team Sky, and he's ready to carry the team's general classification hopes when the race begins Sunday in Sacramento.
"James Murdoch put this down as his second biggest race of the year that he wanted us to try and do well in after the Tour de France," Wiggins said of the deputy chief operating officer for News Corp., which owns team sponsors Sky and 21st Century Fox.
"I think that shows you the level that they hold this race in and how important it is for a company like that," he said. "They put it before every other race. So I think that shows it's important and why we're here with a strong team."
This year will be Wiggins' second attempt at the Tour of California after his debut here in 2008 when the race was in February and he and Mark Cavendish were racing together with Team High Road. Wiggins didn't finish in his first attempt, and he's obviously hoping for a better run this year.
"The last time I was here with [Mark Cavendish], and we had a horrendous time," he said. "We were both fat as anything, and we struggled. I spent one of my worst days on the bike, from some town somewhere [Seaside, ed.] to San Luis Obispo. It was 230km in the rain. Guys were retiring from the breakaway, it was that cold. I've never seen that in any other bike race.
"So that was the last time we were here," he said. "And then I got sick and retired. Cav won the stage and then got disqualified. So it was a horrendous race for us. That was the last time we were here. So it can't get any worse than that."
Wiggins said he is at the same weight now as he was during his Tour de France win in 2012, and his recent ride at the front of Paris-Roubaix shows where his current form is. He and the other riders will get their first real test during Friday's 20km time trial in Folsom, followed by the climb to Mt. Diablo on Tuesday for the finish of stage 3.
"At the end of the day, it's just about producing power at a given weight," he said. "It's not really that complicated. So I think we'll find out on Tuesday. Other things may come into play, like the heat, if that is a factor. But we'll find out. That's what's so good about cycling."
The former Tour winner said the GC should be well on its way to shaking itself out after the third stage, although he added that neither of the mountain-top finishes are as straightforward as they look on paper, and the overall could be in play all the way to the finish next week in Thousand Oaks near Los Angeles.
"I think a lot is going to happen in those first three days," he said. "And you're going to see the strongest guys come to the front straight away. And then it kind of sets the race up for the rest of the week. In some ways it may settle the race down a little but for a few days and maybe give Jens [Voigt] here a chance to get up the road. It certainly should be exciting for the people watching the first few days."
As far as naming rivals for the overall, Wiggins held those cards close to his chest.
"I never really do look at the start list, because you always try and focus on what you're doing yourself," he said. "You never know where everyone is at in their preparation or whatever, and other things come into play. So you can be really focused on someone, and all of the sudden the race is over. But obviously everyone in this [press conference] is here for reason, and that's because they've got a chance. We'll see in the first days whose got it and who hasn't."
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