For the first time since he scooped a gold medal double for Britain in China's Oympics, Bradley Wiggins will return to a velodrome as a competitor today, in Manchester's track World Cup.
Wiggins' objective? To prove he is as worthy of a ride in London 2012 as he was three years ago, when he blitzed the field in Beijing as part of the GB team pursuit squad. Then he will put away his track bike and go back to his other project, the Tour de France.
"The aim in Manchester is to produce a world-class time," Wiggins tells The Independent, "to show myself and my squad that I am able to. I haven't been on the track since China and I haven't been with all of the current line-up in the squad.
"If all goes well in Manchester, I'm guaranteed of keeping my place in the team-pursuit squad, and with that little project done, I can concentrate on the road again. When I come back next winter to start my build-up for the Olympics, people won't be questioning why I'm there."
With the individual pursuit (IP) and Madison now scrapped from the programme, Wiggins will have only the team pursuit to concentrate on in London, something he sees as "less of a challenge" despite being four years older than in Beijing.
"Compared with 2008, where I had to do the IP and the Madison, and the team pursuit, it's less to focus on. Maybe it is just as well, because the opposition is raising its game."
Wiggins cites the Australians as their most dangerous opponents in the team pursuit, both in Manchester and next year. "They've really improved across the board," he says. "Jack Bobridge has just set a new record for the IP after it had been standing for 15 years; him and Cameron Meyer are really talented. A while back I predicted that Cam Meyer would be Australia's first ever Tour de France winner."
Bringing up the Tour when discussing the track perhaps reveals Wiggins – after finishing fourth in cycling's premier road race in 2009 – has more divided loyalties than in his build-up to Beijing 2008.
He seems genuinely uncertain whether the track or the road comes first in his mind: having a sponsor, Sky, that backs both the GB track team and his professional squad does not make it any easier. "I'm paid to be a road-racer and the Tour is the main priority, the track second," Wiggins says, before switching his line to "what with it all being in one camp I don't know where the priority will be.
"They might even say to forget the Tour in 2012 and do the Giro [d'Italia] as part of my Olympic build-up. It'll be important for them that we come away from London with a big medal haul."
"But in my own mind, it would be ridiculous to pull out of the Tour de France, to train for the Olympics. Cav [Mark Cavendish] did that in 2008, and he's always regretted it."
"Ideally, I'd do three weeks in the Tour and then go straight to London. It's only if it's a week or less between one event and my track racing in 2012 that it would be incompatible."
Next year's Olympic track schedule allows for a margin of 10 days between the end of the Tour and the team pursuit qualifiers in London. Wiggins can breathe easy.
A strong ride in Manchester is part of Wiggins' master-plan to prove that triumphing in two very different fields of cycling can work physically as well as logistically.
Whilst he has nothing to prove in the Olympics, in the Tour he has yet to show that he can bounce back from a disappointing ride in last year's race, when he slumped to 24th.
"There will be changes this year. I'll miss the Giro and train at altitude in the summer, probably in Tenerife," Wiggins said. "As for the Tour, the aim is to be up there with the group that's fighting for the podium."
He does not rule out taking yellow in the first week, though. "There's a team time-trial on the second day, which Sky should do well in. If I've been up there in the first stage, which is an uphill finish, then it could happen. Once you've had the morale lift of wearing the leader jersey, that sets you up for the rest of the race."
The sun-drenched roads of the Tour could not be further from two chilly evenings of track racing in Manchester, but Wiggins remains convinced that "cross-fertilisation" between his two projects is possible.
"Fortunately for me and the position I ride in the team pursuit, coming off the road is all right. That's why I've just done the Tour of Qatar. And I'll keep on 'topping it up' on the track between now and London.
"Long-term, though, I can't see myself at the Tour in eight years time. If I want a comeback in the Tour after 2010, I can't hang around."
First, though, is Manchester – and, perhaps, a world-class track ride.Reuse content