He still remains a long shot to become Britain’s first Tour de France winner, but if Bradley Wiggins and Team Sky fail in their No. 1 target it will not be for lack of preparation.
Having won three pursuit track golds at two Olympics and numerous world titles, Wiggins was still seen as a rider who would challenge in time trials, but did not have the climbing power or endurance to be taken seriously as a Tour threat.
However, having shed up to 10kg for last year’s Tour, his fourth place finish matched Robert Millar’s previous best by a Briton and sparked a rapid reassessment.
When Sky set about building their new British team they earmarked Wiggins as the man they had to have on board and, after some lengthy “will he, won’t he” negotiations, he completed a soccer-style transfer from Garmin for the start of the season.
Linking up on the roads with team principal Dave Brailsford and his background team, who had built the British track cycling squad into the best in the world, meant Wiggins was immediately comfortable in his new environment.
Although the team left some onlookers confused about how it would operate alongside and at the same time as a part of the British national squad, there has never been any doubt about their ultimate target.
In the broad sense, Brailsford is evangelical about inspiring a million more people to take up cycling and he knows the best way to bring about such a revolution is via the Tour de France, still the only cycling race that gets any widespread recognition in Britain.
In Wiggins, and the team hand picked to support him, Brailsford and Britain are suddenly in a position to make a realistic challenge.
Wiggins, born in Belgium as the son of a professional cyclist, is fully aware of the status of the race within and outside the sport.
At the London launch of Team Sky earlier this year, he said: “To be honest, it is the only race that matters. You could win 100 races in a season and do nothing in the Tour ... well, the other races are important and are important for the team, but the Tour is what we are going to be judged on.”
As for his own prospects he added: “People would have laughed if I said I’d come fourth in the Tour — they did laugh actually — but I know what I’m capable of now.”
Veteran British pro Malcolm Elliott, still racing at 48 and who had a taste of the Tour in the 1980s, said there was a lot of pressure on Wiggins, but he could well crack the podium.
“It’s not long since he was a pure track rider, so he’s done fantastically well and I’d love to see him match or improve on last year, but there is a lot of pressure on him,” Elliott said. “I feel for him, there is a real weight of expectation on that team now. It’s tough, and it only takes one bad day and it can be all over.”
Wiggins’ chilled exterior masks a steely determination that was shown to the fore when he blasted to victory in the Giro prologue — his first Grand Tour stage win after a series of time trial near-misses.
After becoming the second Briton to wear the Giro’s pink jersey after Mark Cavendish last year, having risked all on a wet, slippery surface, he said: “I decided I wasn’t going to touch the brakes. I thought: ‘If I crash, I crash.’ I wanted to get the pink jersey or die trying.”
Two crashes on the second stage literally brought him down to earth and he had a bad day in the mountains, but he ploughed on, finishing the race in 40th overall.