It was a strange anomaly for one so decorated, but until last Thursday, Bradley Wiggins had never won a European championship.
Wiggins corrected this oversight by leading the men’s team pursuit squad to a comfortable victory over Switzerland in a final held on their opponents’ home boards in Grenchen.
Cycling’s knight led a comparatively inexperienced quartet in the final, containing Jonathan Dibben and Owain Doull, as well as former world champion Andy Tennant. Nineteen-year-old Matt Gibson had done duty in earlier rounds.
After failing to record a time below four minutes in the preceding year before Wiggins and, critically, coach Heiko Salzwedel, joined the men’s endurance programme full-time, Great Britain clocked 3.55.243 to claim gold, averaging a cool 61.2km/h.
“We had three tough rides in two days,” Wiggins said afterwards. “We got three good rides in with different riders. We tried everyone, and to record a time like that in the final, everyone’s really happy. We’re missing Ed Clancy [and] we’re European champions. We’ve achieved the goal, so Heiko’s happy.”
Ah, Heiko. The German was Performance Manager for Great Britain between 2008 and 2010 after guiding the Danes to team pursuit silver, and his influence is clearly being felt by his current charges. Just a year after his return for a third stint with British Cycling, the men’s team pursuit squad has been crowned European champions.
Shane Sutton was unflinching in his analysis of the task of following Sir Dave Brailsford into the top job at British Cycling when we spoke in July, but in the same interview celebrated the return of his performance manager, and, of course, Wiggins.
Now, after Great Britain’s table-topping display at the European Track Championships in Switzerland last week, Sutton might wish to reconsider his assessment.
His athletes won nine medals in total, six of them gold, enough to top the table ahead of the Netherlands, whose total matched Great Britain’s, but with one gold medal less.
Matching Brailsford’s achievements is a mighty task – the sprinters remain a long way from their best, and individual pursuit and kilo events no longer form part of the Olympic programme – but with the business end of the Olympic cycle underway, Sutton’s athletes have hit their stride.
Laura Trott wins, seemingly, by necessity. Her breeziness off the bike conceals a ferocious drive on it. Having left Grenchen with three gold medals - team pursuit, scratch race, and omnium - Trott increased her tally of European titles to 10.
Katie Archibald matched Trott’s achievement by winning the team pursuit, individual pursuit and elimination race and has established herself as among the strongest in a group of world-class women’s endurance athletes, whose default setting is excellence.
But Trott is queen of all she surveys, with a palmarés unmatched even by her formidably talented colleagues. This tenth European title sits alongside two Olympic titles, five world titles and a Commonwealth gold. All have been achieved within a five-year period.
Trott’s consistency might make her a victim of her own success: the biggest story from Grenchen, unquestionably, is Wiggins’ return to top team pursuit form so soon after making it his priority. In June, lest we forget, the Hour Record was uppermost in his mind; in April, it was the small matter of Paris-Roubaix.
Wiggins spoke afterwards (to British Cycling) of “classic team pursuiting”. He is back in his element, though this can be as varied as he decides: Grand Tours were his thing for a season or two, you might recall.
One suspects though that he is pleased with his work in Grenchen. A return to the Manchester velodrome and a round of the Revolution Series awaits on Saturday. A week can be a long time in Wiggins’ world.