Bradley Wiggins waved away reporters as he sat on the grass in centre of the velodrome after his 9th place finish behind Niki Terpstra at Paris-Roubaix, for fear, it seemed, that he might say something he would later regret.
By the time he had showered and changed aboard the Team Sky bus a little later, however, Wiggins had come around the idea that his outing on the pavé had been a successful one. Certainly, it had been enjoyable one: the cycling fan in Wiggins admitted that it had been the realisation of a childhood dream simply to be in contention for the win at Paris-Roubaix.
"There's a tinge of disappointment because I really had the legs and even in the final I felt strong," he said. "But there was a part of where I was pinching myself a little bit, I don't mind admitting that. It was a real honour to be in the final there, going past Boonen on the Carrefour. It was something special to come into the velodrome in a group with Cancellara."
Wiggins was the first past Tour de France winner to race Paris-Roubaix since Greg LeMond in 1992 and, coincidentally, finished in precisely the same position as the American. Rather than compare himself to Tour winners past, however, Wiggins was keen to measure himself against the current masters of the cobbles, with one eye to another tilt at the Hell of the North in 2015.
"To be there was great and I have confidence I can do it now and I can match those guys if you like. To go top 10, I think in hindsight, is a good result," he said. "There's not many Tour winners who've gone top 10 in Paris-Roubaix. I can think of two in my head, so on a personal note it's a nice thing."
Wiggins, of course, was no Paris-Roubaix neophyte, completing the race in 25 th place in 2009 and last competing here just three years ago. Prior to the race, he had described his dream scenario as being on Fabian Cancellara's wheel with 40 kilometres remaining, and although he was not without his travails along the way, he did manage to write his way into the final equation on the run-in to Roubaix.
"I was fighting to stay in front before the sectors and I avoided all the crashes. I'm just pleased I committed to it really and didn't bottle it, that's a big part of it," said Wiggins, whose Sky team had carefully ushered him to the front of the peloton at Wallers, just prior to the Arenberg Forest. "I was 5th or 6th in Arenberg but then I broke my wheel and I had to wait until the end to get it changed. It was still rideable but I couldn't brake, which was probably a good thing."
Wiggins remained close to Cancellara throughout the final 40 kilometres of the race and although he was distanced under impetus from the Swiss rider and Sep Vanmarcke on the Carrefour de l'Arbre, he and teammate Geraint Thomas bridged to the 11-strong winning group with a shade over 10 kilometres remaining.
"I felt good. When the two groups came together I attacked, because I felt a little bit outnumbered," said Wiggins, who paid tribute to Terpstra's canny winning attack. "Then, it was quite fast on the run-in in the last 5k and Tepstra played it perfectly with Tom [Boonen] and [Zdenek] Stybar there [in the leading group]."
Wiggins' relaxed demeanour during his week-long stint at Sky classics base in Kortrijk has seemed a million miles removed from the tension that surrounded his Tour de France victory and his Giro d'Italia bid of last season. "It's been fantastic being with this group and it's a shame there's not another race next week," he said.
While Wiggins outlined his wish to return for another crack at Paris-Roubaix - "I'd love to come back the next few years and do it" - and reiterated his plans to return to the team pursuit in time for the Rio Olympics in 2016, he also stated his intention to be part of Sky's Tour de France team this coming July. He acknowledged, however, that Chris Froome would have a significant influence on the final nine-man roster.
"I'll do everything possible to try and be there, but obviously it is Chris's team and he'll have a big say in who is around him and who he's confident having in front of him in the mountains," he said. "My job is to continue doing what I'm doing, go to [the Tour of] California and get the result I want there, then do a good team role Dauphiné and show that I warrant a Tour place."
Indeed, while Wiggins' dreamily spoke of an "end of term" feel as the curtain came down on the classics campaign, he was adamant that his season was only just beginning. "I've proved that I've got the legs at the moment and I'm coming to where I need to be now and I just need to push on: I'm not going to the party tonight, I'm teetotal," he said. "This is the next phase. It was all about Roubaix but now I switch back to that kind of GC role."
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