With Chris Froome and Mark Cavendish injured, and Geraint Thomas citing fatigue (and perhaps no small desire to watch his beloved Wales in a home rugby union world cup), the Great Britain team is in desperate need of a senior rider to lead at the World Championships.
Reluctant in the extreme to take the mantle his vast talent deserves, the chances of Sir Bradley Wiggins showing up in Richmond are slight, to put it mildly, but who better to galvanise a squad packed with talent, but lacking the influence of a senior professional?
"There was certainly never a question of him doing the road race,” team manager Rod Ellingworth told Cycling News, but might events persuade cycling’s knight of the realm to mount his charger and ride, once more, unto the breach?
Another statement to consider, this time from Ellingworth’s boss at British Cycling, Shane Sutton, the federation’s Technical Director, given to this website:
Sutton was talking about the Olympic track squad, but a similar effect might be wrought upon the likes of Peter Kennaugh, Luke Rowe, and Adam Yates, the last a late replacement for Thomas.
The British team is as strong as any entered for the World Championships, thanks to a mix of pedigree and good form, but lacks an inspirational figure.
Steve Cummings might be taken as a case in point. The 34-year-old is vastly experienced (a member of Cavendish's title winning 'Project Rainbow' squad of 2011) and enjoying life so much at MTN-Qhubeka that he has added a second Grand Tour stage win to his palmares this season. But is he a rider who by presence alone can inspire a team to new heights?
Wiggins, by contrast, has the ‘x’ factor. One might consider his last race, the Tour of Britain, where, each day, he led out British U23 champion Owain Doull in sprint finishes. Doull finished third overall.
More might be read into Wiggins’ most recent showing on the road. The Tour of Britain is no longer an insignificant, domestic affair, but a race that routinely attracts WorldTour teams and world class riders.
Anyone fortunate enough to have watched Wiggins up close would have noticed the impressive blend of hunger for racing and the comparative ease with which he kept pace with those from the top flight. Yes, Wiggins' goals are centred on the track and a return to Olympic competition at Rio 2016, but at this stage in his preparation, he retains the road form required for duty in Richmond.
The latest vacancy in the GB squad was created last Friday when Cavendish announced his withdrawal with an injured shoulder after crashing in the Tour of Britain. While Adam Blythe would represent a like-for-like replacement in the broadest sense - one sprinter for another - he will not bring Cavendish’s presence to the start line. Only Wiggins’ accomplishments exceed the Manxman’s, and so, in terms of reputation, only Wiggins can truly fill the void.
A white charger would surely await Sir Brad should he heed the call. The 10 to 15 per cent performance gain anticipated in his team-mates by Sutton would surely be reason enough to make the journey. A reprise of his performance for Doull, this time in service of Swift or Yates, might be enough to make the difference. Cast your mind back to 2011, and his Titanic pulls for Cavendish in Copenhagen.
Once more unto the breach for British cycling’s most revered son? Cry God for Bradley, England, and Saint George!