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Although he will continue on with the new self-titled Continental squad, focussing mainly on the track plus the world hour record, Bradley Wiggins’ road career is essentially winding down and may have just days left to run.
The former Tour de France winner will don a Team Sky jersey for the final time for Sunday’s Paris-Roubaix. Then, wherever he finishes, he will call it a day with the team, ending a chapter with the squad which began a little over five years ago in January 2010.
Even if he does occasional road events with Team Wiggins as part of his conditioning for track races, they won’t be on anything like the same scale. UCI rules deem that continental squads can’t take part in WorldTour events.
Speaking in recent days, Wiggins said he was completely satisfied with the thoughts of bidding farewell to his WorldTour road career on Sunday.
“It just wouldn’t be the same anywhere else,” said Wiggins.
“I think Roubaix is a fitting end and so many riders – Museeuw, Ballerini, Van Petegem…they have all ended it at Roubaix. It is just a nice cut off point before the rest of the season gets underway.
“It wouldn’t have been the same at De Panne or Four Days of Dunkirk or one of those races. It was just nice…Roubaix, you come onto the velodrome, you get to do a lap of honour wherever you finish.”
For Wiggins, the nature of Paris-Roubaix is one of the attractions behind using it as his final WorldTour contest.
“It is probably the only race other than the Tour de France where riders plug on to get to the finish,” he explained. “So even if you were out the back and crashed and down, I would ride on with a broken collarbone just to come on to Roubaix because it is the last race.
“I know no other race would be like that so in that way it is good for that.”
“There is always a fairy tale with Paris-Roubaix”
Wiggins concentrated on stage racing for several years, netting a surprising fourth in the 2009 Tour de France. While he finished back in 23rd in 2010 and then crashed out in 2011, he rebounded to win in 2012.
However that was the last time he ever rode the Tour, with Chris Froome taking over at the helm and apparent personality clashes with Wiggins keeping him out of the team.
A bid to win the 2013 Giro d’Italia did not work out, and he changed his focus last season to target the Classics. That resulted in a ninth-place finish in Paris-Roubaix, and a decision by Wiggins to fully focus on the race this year and to try to end his career with a win.
Asked if he owed it to himself to have a big result on Sunday, he said it wasn’t the case.
“I wouldn’t say…I don’t think I owe myself anything. I would have been quite happy to have stopped after the worlds last year. That was a really nice way to [finish]…
“I was in denial about it for a good while. I had a few weeks. I thought, well, do I really want to ride all them shit races again? There is always a fairy tale with Paris-Roubaix. You finish it and because you had a good ride you forget how hard it was.
“To be honest, I remember how much I enjoyed it last year. Put it that way. I really enjoyed being here with these guys, and just enjoying it. Being part of something. I think that more than anything really is for me a big part of it. There have been periods where I hated it, hated the sport, hated riding my bike.
“But I actually really had an enjoyable season last year, even though I had quite a few ups and downs. I ended up having quite a good year. That more than anything was the attraction to come back. I said I would like to finish it all with Roubaix. Now I have said that, people are starting to you, you could win Roubaix like this fairytale ending. But it is not as easy as that.”
Indeed Wiggins’ hopes to set Geraint Thomas up for victory in last Sunday’s Tour of Flanders unravelled. He was involved in a crash, had mechanical issues and while he returned to the peloton, he was distanced before the finale and ended up over nine minutes back.
He will hope for much better on Sunday, and will ride Wednesday’s Scheldeprijs as a tune-up.
Asked what he wants from Sunday, he would like to be in a good position when it counts and then take it from there.
“I said already that I would give anything to be in the same position as Carrefour de l’Arbre again as I was last year. That would be enough for me, to be honest…. Ah, I would love to win. Don’t get me wrong…I am not sitting here going, ‘I will accept ninth place.’
“But to have a clean run through the race, no crashes. I had one wheel change last year which wasn’t a puncture, I broke a wheel in Arenberg. I didn’t have any mishaps. I was there, I passed Boonen on the Carrefour de l’Arbre, I got to the end and turned right and I was there with Terpstra and all those guys. I would quite happily retire on that corner this year [smiles].
“I just want to be in that position again. Then obviously after that is the business end. That is where the race takes shape. To come on with all my peers on that velodrome… I’ll get too nostalgic [to keep talking about it].”
Wiggins said that two things brought home to him that he was leaving the WorldTour peloton. The first was Luca Paolini asking to have a photo taken with him at the Tour of Qatar. The second was a request by Filippo Pozzato for one of his bikes.
“He collects bikes from his favourite riders. That is huge for me,” he said. “Someone like him who I have looked up for so many years. We were juniors together. It is kind of a realisation that you are off.”
“It doesn’t get much bigger than that”
Wiggins admitted that his time at the team had been up and down, with some tough times. He describes year one in 2010 as being ‘horrible [with] that pressure and expectation, trying to win the Tour, the whole Garmin saga and coming from there.’
He didn’t refer to the polemic with and about Froome but it’s likely that not being selected for the Tour de France after his win was a low point for him, even though he also described winning the Tour in less than glowing terms.
However even if he didn’t get the opportunities he wanted at times, he credits Sky with giving him much too.
“I wouldn’t have had any of the success I had had I not been in this team. People are always talking about what your legacy is going to be…I don’t know what it is going to be in a performance sense, but in a performance sense I think we have changed cycling.
“We have officially changed it…and you can quote me on that. We have officially changed it, because who was the first person to start doing warm downs on a turbo? It was me in the 2011 Tour. We were the first team to wear skinsuits in road races. Everyone berated us for it in the Giro in 2010. Pozzato in particular. Yet he wears a skinsuit in every race now.
“Filled in helmets – now everyone is wearing filled in helmets. We were the first team to do that. Just all these little things now that everyone is using, that Team Sky got take the piss out of at first about. But now everyone is doing it, they have all followed suit.”
So what of his fondest memories? He named several, including his world championship win in the Ponferrada time trial last September. However the first that came to mind was returning from the Tour de France as the race winner, joining a holding camp for the Olympic Games in London and seeing the reaction in England to what had been achieved at the Tour.
He also nominated the realisation that the sport had been transformed by British success.
“That came from a succession of stuff. Not just my win in the Tour de France, but Cav becoming world champion. [From] what we did in Copenhagen, as a British team. We rode on the front for 200 kilometres to win in that position.
“Then the Champs Elysees…the first British winner in the Tour leading out – okay, there was a Norwegian in between – but leading out a British world champion to win the Champs Elysees stage. That was really special.
“Riding at the front for 200 kilometres at the London Olympics. Even though Cav didn’t win, it was still an incredible experience. And then to go out for 50 minutes around the streets of London, Hampton Court. To have won the Tour de France and see all those millions of fans, and win the time trial. It doesn’t get much bigger than that.”