With Bradley Wiggins on the point of ending his racing with Team Sky, his former sports director and Paris-Roubaix contender Sean Yates has paid tribute to the Briton he helped guide to a breakthrough victory for his country's cycling back in 2012 at the Tour de France.
For Yates, too, Paris-Roubaix has always been a very special race, so seeing Wiggins end his Sky career in the Queen of the Classics is a gesture he appreciates. As a pro, Paris-Roubaix was the one event of the year where Yates went from his usual role of super-domestique to team leader, finishing a career-best of fifth in one of the hardest ever editions, in 1994.
"As Bradley says, we all know he's well into his cycling history and the big heros of yester-year like Eddy [Merckx] and [four times Paris-Roubaix winner] [Roger] De Vlaeminck," Yates, now directing at Tinkoff-Saxo, told Cyclingnews.
"So given how passionate Bradley is about that and Monuments, Roubaix is pretty much the biggest and the most spectacular. [Finishing his career there] is a dream scenario. The ultimate dream for Wiggins would be to win, but whatever happens, he's doing this [retirement] on his own terms, he's gifted enough to be able to do that and I wish him all the best."
Yates feels that Wiggins will definitely be in contention on Sunday because "he's perfectly built for that. Ultimately [in Paris-Roubaix] you need power and he's clearly got that, he's won so many different kinds of races." Yates would even go so far as to argue that "in the modern era, he's pretty much up there with the best there's ever been. He's got that versatility as a rider, and it's not over yet. He could well go to Rio and get another medal there.
"Also important is how far he can get when he focusses on something. We all know how far he put himself out of his comfort zone to get to the Tour in great shape in 2012, for example. Physically he's up there with the best."
Wiggins taking ninth last year in Paris-Roubaix, Yates says, "was a breakthrough performance, it's about being in the best place at the right time. We all know Bradley can put the power down, and turn a big gear at the right cadence which is perfect for the cobbles. You could argue he's not the greatest bike handler in the world, but he's certainly not the worst. He's ridden Madisons on the track, that requires a great deal of bike handling skills.
"Paris-Roubaix will be a fitting kind of finish to his road career, even though there's a lot more to come."
As for Peter Sagan and Tinkoff-Saxo's own chances with the Slovak, Yates - currently directing at the Vuelta al País Vasco and not at Paris-Roubaix this year - is quietly optimistic.
"We're hoping he'll be up there. At Flanders he was just missing that one per cent type of thing." Yates feels, in any case, with a different roll of the dice, the race could be much more successful for Sagan, already a strong fourth in Flanders.
"Ultimately each race unfolds differently, like at Flanders where those two [Niki Terpstra and Alexander Kristoff] got away and there wasn't quite the commitment or horsepower to pull them back. There's always a lot of scenarios in the Classics and a lot of outcomes are possible."
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