When Bradley Wiggins last rode the Tour of California in 2014, he won the thing, but this shouldn’t be considered a barometer for his second participation next May.
The recent announcement that Wiggins would return to the scene of his last stage race victory for Team Sky is surprising at first glance, given its proximity to the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio - a sporting denouement so fitting as to be almost preordained.
A moment’s consideration, however, reveals that it is not quite the dual ambition that the organisers of the American race might hope for. They are surely too wise for such California dreaming.
Wiggins is a changed man from the rider who, in 2013, struggling to cope with the aftermath of an annus mirabilis, seemed burdened by the weight of a nation, almost on every training ride. Wiggins seems at last comfortable with having nothing left to prove. It is enough that he participates in races, offering the public a last chance to watch one of the sport’s greats, and not always that he should ride to win.
He remained at the back for much of this year’s Tour of Qatar, for example, and frankly, why shouldn’t he? Expect more of the same next year in California, unless he modifies his role to riding for one of his young team-mates, as he did on several stages of the Tour of Britain. His service to Owain Doull was another sign of a rider finally comfortable with the status of elder statesman.
The track now commands Wiggins’ full attention, with the Olympic cycle in its final phase, and to this end he will head to Cali before California, leading the men’s team pursuit squad at the opening round of the UCI Track World Cup this weekend.
Wiggins proved an inspirational figure at the recent European championships in Grenchen, Switzerland, where Great Britain topped the medal table and where the men’s team pursuit squad dipped below the four-minute barrier for the first time in a year.
He is clearly relishing his return to the track. Recent evidence might be found in his participation in another round of the Revolution Series last weekend, this time in Manchester, having reignited his Madison partnership with Mark Cavendish at the Derby round in August.
Wiggins in full cry again at the home of British Cycling must have stirred a few memories, and while his performance in the men’s points race was enough only for second to Great Britain and Team Wiggins colleague Andy Tennant, it was a ride to remind the spectator that even at play, he is formidable (and might his blinding cadence have been a signal to a former colleague at Team Sky?).
Winter beckons and February’s final round of the Track World Cup in London will offer a more searching examination of Wiggins’ Olympic preparations. Place to one side for a moment his brilliance on the bike and the most binding aspect of the many phases of Wiggins' career has been his tenacity when pursuing a goal. He is unlikely to disappoint.
Cali will provide a more immediate test. Few among Team GB’s more experienced cohort will relish the trip to Colombia, where excursions beyond the confines of the velodrome are not advised. Wiggins, however, gives every indication of again fancying the job. His current form indicates that the fairytale ending in Rio is, for the moment at least, very much on.