The word within the Great Britain camp is that Bradley Wiggins is flying, and with the UCI Track World Championships set to start on Wednesday and talk of a possible team pursuit world record, the former Tour de France winner could not have found his form at a better time.
As part of the Great Britain men's pursuit team, Wiggins will line up in national kit in London for the first time since the 2012 Olympic Games. So much has happened since those heady days in the capital, when Tour rejoice turned to national triumphalism. There has been the aborted Giro campaign; a time trial world title; a departure from Team Sky; a tilt at Paris-Roubaix that was based upon science and sprinkled with romanticism, and a successful Hour Record. Bradley Wiggins's career was defined by the Tour but it was created on the track.
In many ways Wiggins' quest for another Olympic track title can be seen as a back-to-basics story. After all, it's on the track where Wiggins first began to assemble his collection of world titles and Olympic medals.
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However, the team pursuit that Wiggins once conquered has grown, morphed and improved. And where there was once dominance for Great Britain there is now doubt.
"It has got harder," he tells the press after a training session at the Manchester velodrome.
"The training is a lot harder. Eight years ago when I was doing it for Beijing we were going half a second slower so you can't really compare it back to then because we're travelling around at 3:50 pace now. The whole event has moved on. Sixteen years ago we broke the world record in qualification with 4:04 and now we're planning on going 3:50. It's fifteen seconds faster, and the whole event has evolved and snowballed. We're now training like sprinters in the gym through the winter. It's hard, it's brutal, and hard to compare to eight years ago."
Some of that brutality is etched on Wiggins' face as he fields questions. After each session the pursuit team gather around a set of monitors by the side of the velodrome in Manchester, and their every pedal stroke laid bare. There are no points for reputation, and no quarter given amongst those seeking a ride in London or the Games, and as Wiggins knows there is no guarantee that he will make the selection for Rio. This week in London is therefore not just important from the aspect of team success at the Worlds but as a stepping-stone to the Games.
"The good thing is that you come in and it's a numbers game that we're in. You get shown the numbers after every ride we do and if you're not up to scratch then you go home and you don't make the team," he says.
"It's not a given. I'm not pre-selected because I won the Tour. I'm not really thinking beyond Worlds. I'll try and win a title, do my job in each round, and go onto the next phase."
"Reputations and results have nothing to do with it really," he says when a journalist eludes to his ‘aura' and presence. "It's brutal and cut throat but also quite evidential," Wiggins reiterates.
A World Record
Great Britain finished with a silver twelve months ago at the World Championships in Paris and it was seen by the team as a step in the right direction for a team that had taken time to rebuild after London. Only Ed Clancy and Steven Burke remain from the London Games, when the team set a new - and still standing - world record of 3:51.659. Wiggins' return, along with slots for Owain Doull, Andy Tennant, Jon Dibben, Chris Latham, and Mark Cavendish have provided depth to the team and Wiggins believes that there is a chance of a new world record being set. However conditions, as he found during the UCI Hour Record attempt last year, will be critical.
"I think it will either be next week or in Rio because there are no other opportunities. We're all quite excited that we could break the world record if the conditions are right. If the Worlds were in Manchester next week, we know that we can crank it up to 30 degrees, that this is a fast track and we'd go close if not break the world record. As I learnt with the Hour you can't compare what you do here with London though. You don't know what the conditions will be like."
It's not just the British team who will be eyeing a world record. Australia and reigning world champions New Zealand are both capable of incredibly quick rides.
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The British team's coach, Heiko Salzwedel, who has worked with Wiggins on the track for several years agrees that a new record could be around the corner.
"Put it this way. I think that there will be a new world record, if not by us then by someone else. It's long overdue and the team pursuit is moving on. It's stood for too long. It's an important test for us and of course it would be disappointing for us to come back having been beaten by a close margin like last year against the New Zealand team. This is a stepping-stone but an important one."
There is no telling what breaking the world record would do for this British team. Having suffered in recent seasons and with the sprint teams struggling, a landmark win via the old guard of Wiggins, Burke and Co. would act as a beacon for many of the other riders within the squad.
"I sat in the velodrome the night that they broke the world record in the team pursuit. It was incredible. It will be like that, and a great atmosphere. People want to see us do well," Wiggins says.
As his career begins to move full circle the former Tour winner reflects on the significance of the London Worlds and what they might mean should the 35-year-old feature in a pre-Olympic win.
"I've been able to come back and forth to the track from the road. That's kept it fresh and given me a complete change of goals. From trying to win the Tour de France, losing weight and being miserable, to all those pressures of being a Grand Tour rider. Then giving that up and do something completely different. It's like going back 18 years to my first Worlds in Bordeaux in 1998. That's fresh in itself. It meant that this winter I didn't have to wrap up and go and do six hours in the cold. We were in here three times a week trying to put weight on and then on the track in the afternoons.
"In some ways to ride here, in an Olympic year in my last Worlds, it will be a nice way to end my career. I've been fortunate. I rode the Worlds here in 2000 and we got a medal straight after Sydney then the Manchester Worlds in 2008, the home Olympics, and then to finish in London. There's not many people who get to do that."
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