Bradley Wiggins says that if he were to win his final race with Team Sky at Paris-Roubaix this Sunday it would rank among his personal achievements than his Tour de France victory. Wiggins is due to draw a close to his road career this week as he switches his focus to the track ahead of next year's Olympic Games in Rio and will ride Roubaix as his final send-off.
"It would be bigger in my eyes at the moment. That's not to say that the Tour wasn't huge because it was. I think it would be more enjoyable because it's only one day and it's over in six hours," Wiggins said. "It was always a fairy tale Roubaix, and you finish and because you had a good race you forget how hard it was.
"I idolised some of my heroes as a kid who rode these races. Despite what might have come out in the last few years, with honesty groups and whatever, just the pure passion, regardless of what people were doing or not doing, just that pure passion for the sport. I wouldn't be here without it."
Riding Paris-Roubaix was deemed much too risky when preparing for a tilt at the Tour de France and he was only able to return to the race last year, for the first time in three seasons. He survived the selection and came through the cobbles in the main group of contenders before going onto finish ninth. With more specific preparation for the event, Wiggins has been put among the favourites for victory on Sunday. However, Wiggins is aware that finding that perfect send-off is far easier said than done.
"Everyone says, 'oh you can win Roubaix and have this fairy tale ending' but it's not as easy as that and I'd give anything to be in the same position, the Carrefore de l'Arbe again like I was last year and that would be enough for me to be honest. I mean I'd love to win, I'm not here saying that I'd accept ninth place but to have a clean run through the race, to have no crashes.
"To come onto that Velodrome with all my peers, I'm getting too nostalgic but that's a huge part of it."
As time on his road career runs out, Wiggins has once again found the passion for the sport that he had when he entered it so many years ago. Announcing his intention to retire several months before the fact has allowed him and his peers to make the most of his final races. Some have simply asked for a photograph with the British rider while Filippo Pozzato has asked for one of Wiggins' bikes to add to his collection of former pro's bikes.
"They're nice little things from people who you've worked with all these years that you haven't spoken to. There's a mutual respect thing and that's a huge part of it for me."
It hasn't always been like that. When Team Sky were inaugurated in 2010, they began with the plan of putting a British rider on the top step of the Tour de France podium and Wiggins formed the centre of that plan. After two failed attempts, Wiggins finally won the Tour de France in 2012, beating his teammate Chris Froome by more than three minutes.
As the winner of the Tour de France, Wiggins was thrust firmly into the limelight and found himself with the responsibility of a spokesman for the sport, something that he struggled to accept. Wiggins intensely disliked the newly earned attention and he found himself resenting the sport he once loved.
"There have been periods when I hated it, hated the sport and hated riding the bike," said Wiggins. "That first year was quite horrible, just the amount of pressure and expectation of trying to win the Tour, the whole Garmin saga and coming from there. They could have bought Steven Gerrard for what they paid for me that year.
"I lost track of that (passion) and I got caught up in trying to win the Tour de France and trying to act cool in interviews and acting like I didn't care and all this and now I accept it. I love this sport and always will, I love everything about it."
Wiggins did find some solace in that period with his victory at the Olympic Games and seeing how the British public had taken to the sport. "When the Daily Mail are printing pictures of your sideburns on the front cover to cut out, you realise for a sport like cycling to have got to that height. Probably the fondest was the moment that we realised that cycling had changed."
Paris-Roubaix is the last big goal of Wiggins' road career but he still has a number of big achievements he'd like to add to his already illustrious palmarès. Wiggins will attempt the hour record in June of this year, although an exact location and date have yet to be revealed. It's a goal that played to his love for the history of the sport and he's keen to put himself among the names that have made it in the pace.
"That's had a resurgence and not just for the record for the people who have done it before and the history with it," said Wiggins. "It would be nice to be up there with those guys. Obviously it would get broken, all records get broken but to be on that list of those that have gone before it would be nice."
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