Bradley Wiggins said recently that only gold counts for him in tomorrow’s men’s time trial - but perhaps he’s wrong.
Ten days after he secured Britain’s first ever victory in the 108-year-old Tour de France, with ‘just’ a podium place this afternoon, Wiggins would make it into the Olympic history books as the most bemedalled British athlete ever.
Wiggins, 32 has already visited an Olympic podium six times in his career, for three golds, two silvers and a bronze, the same total as Sir Steve Redgrave, who has five golds and a bronze. And the British Cycling team management, for one, are convinced that the mutton-chopped rider from Kilburn is on target for a top three placing tomorrow at the very least.
“We’re in the ballpark for sure,” British men’s road coach Rod Ellingworth told The Independent, “Bradley did a damn good job on Saturday” - his mission being to work his finger to the bone for Cavendish, which he duly did - “so we can’t complain about that.”
“But Bradley’s up for this [Wednesday] now as well and looking pretty good. He definitely could win this race.”
The 44 kilometre course itself features a couple of very minor climbs, but is “mainly flat, nothing major at all, it’s ideal for Bradley and will be for [2008 Olympic and multiple World Champion Fabian] Cancellara, too.”
Doubts still linger over Cancellara’s condition, however, a winner of the Tour’s prologue ahead of Wiggins but who crashed out, badly bruising his right shoulder, in the men’s road race. His definitive participation for the time trial was only confirmed on Monday.
Current World time trial Champion Tony Martin is another of Wiggins' top rivals with a question mark hanging over his form. Martin fractured his wrist in a Tour crash, abandoned that race after ten days and pulled out on Saturday saying the pain was too bad.
That means Wiggins is the only top pre-Olympic favourite whose condition is unquestionably at 100 percent. Or as Martin put it yesterday [Tuesday], “Wiggins is the man to beat.” And with something of a power vacuum emerging, there is also a strong chance that Chris Froome, second behind Wiggins in both Tour de France time trials, finds his own way onto the podium as well.
“You never know. There’s definitely no issue about [Froome and Wiggins' ] over-tiredness after the Tour, we’ve handled the recovery issue well.” Ellingworth says.
As the British road coach points out, in the Tour “your [metabolic] system has been working at 100 percent”. After the finish in Paris on July 22nd, therefore it has just been a question of the British athletes’ maintaining peak condition and not ‘over-cooking’, rather than trying to build towards it.
According to Ellingworth, that particular piece of the jigsaw has fallen neatly into place. The British team looked at Wiggins’ “numbers” - his power output and so forth on Sunday after the road-race - and he was still in race-perfect condition. That is partly explained, Ellingworth said, by the fact that compared with the four days intensive racing the Londoner had before the Saturday time trial of the Tour “he’s had a third of the workload to deal with, plenty of time to rest”
“So when you think of it fitness wise, of course he can do it. There’s no concerns at all with that.”
“The guys have good form, they’re raring to go and have done all the right kind of build-up they can do. So we’re pretty happy.”
Wiggins also has other factors on his side - such as a unbroken record of victories in all the time trial events he has taken part in this year in stage races, from the Tour of the Algarve in February through to both tt stages in the Tour de France.
“It’d be a shame if Cancellara wasn’t there” Ellingworth reflects, “because then it’d be a proper big duel like the World Championships last year” - where a three way battle between Wiggins, Cancellara and Martin produced a thrilling time trial race, with the Briton taking silver behind Martin - “and the best man wins.” But as Ellingworth also points out, you can only beat whoever turns up on the day, with Cadel Evans of Australia, fifth in the Beijing time trial, one notable absence today Nor do Britain’s medal hopes in the time trial events start and finish with Wiggins and Froome by a long chalk. A surprise silver medallist in Beijing, Emma Pooley’s light climber’s build will not be favoured by London’s far flatter course - but at the same time she has made huge progress against the clock since 2008.
The World Time Trial Champion in Australia in 2010 and bronze medallist in Denmark last year, Pooley’s darting attacks in the road-race’s hilly segment on Sunday set things up perfectly for Lizzie Armitstead - also racing today although not a time trial specialist - to go clear. Defending Olympic gold, Kristin Armstrong of the USA is one key rival, though, and so too Judith Arndt, World Time Trial Champion last year in Denmark - although Armstrong who crashed in May, breaking her collarbone, admits she has rushed her recovery to make it to the Games.
In contrast all four Britons participating today [Wednesday], are in top shape and blessedly injury-free,and one is already a 2012 Olympic medallist. - a morale boost across the board. But if Wiggins clinches his seventh Olympic medal, it will put the Londoner in a class of his own in all British sports, not just cycling.