Bradley Wiggins said recently that only gold counts for him in this afternoon'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, Wiggins would still make it into the Olympic history books as the most bemedalled British athlete ever with "just" a podium place this afternoon.
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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 this afternoon 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 fingers to the bone for Cavendish in the road race, 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 [Fabian] Cancellara, too." Doubts still linger over the condition of Cancellara, the 2008 Olympic and four-time world champion. He was a winner of the Tour's prologue ahead of Wiggins but crashed out, badly bruising his right shoulder, in the men's road race. His participation in the time trial was only confirmed on Monday.
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 10 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 per cent. Or as Martin put it yesterday: "Wiggins is the man to beat."
With something of a power vacuum emerging, there is also a strong chance that Chris Froome, second behind Wiggins in both long Tour de France time trials, finds his own way on to the podium as well. "You never know. There's definitely no issue about [Froome and Wiggins'] overtiredness after the Tour, we've handled the recovery issue well," Ellingworth says.
As the British road coach points out, in the Tour "your system has been working at 100 per cent". After the finish in Paris on 22 July therefore, it has just been a question of the British athletes maintaining peak condition and not "overcooking", 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 of 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 shown good form, they are raring to go and have done all the right kind of build-up that they can do. So we're pretty happy."
Wiggins also has other factors on his side – such as an 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 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 absentee today.
Nor do Britain's medal hopes in the time-trial events start and finish with Wiggins and Froome. The light climber's build of Emma Pooley, a surprise silver medallist in Beijing, 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.
Pooley was world time-trial champion in Australia in 2010 and bronze medallist in Denmark last year, and her 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 US is one key rival, 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 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.
What's on TV...
TV: 9am-1pm, BBC 1
11.50am Rowing Women's pairs final, with home favourites Helen Glover and Heather Stanning hoping to be involved. The women's quadruple sculls final follows at 12.10pm and men's eights final at 12.30pm – including a 40-year-old Greg Searle, looking to add to his gold medal in the coxed pairs from the 1992 Barcelona games.
12pm Sailing Men's laser races 5 & 6. Paul Goodison continues the defence of his title.
12.30pm Cycling Women's individual time trial. Emma Pooley carries British hopes around Hampton Court and Surrey, seeking to improve on her silver from Beijing four years ago.
TV: 1-1.45pm, BBC 2; 1.45-6pm, BBC 1
2.15pm Cycling Men's individual time trial. Bradley Wiggins could not help Mark Cavendish to glory in last Saturday's road race but is still riding the crest of a wave following last month's Tour de France victory and will be among the favourites for gold on the streets of Surrey this afternoon. Chris Froome and the Irishmen Daniel Martin and David McCann also take part, along with the road race winner Alexandre Vinokourov.
3pm Diving Men's synchronised 3m springboard final. Chris Baker and Nicholas Robinson-Baker go for Britain.
3.15pm Canoe Slalom Men's K1 final. Featuring Britain's Richard Hounslow (below).
3.30pm Shooting Women's 25m pistol final.
Water polo Women's Group B: Great Britain v Australia. The hosts seek to recover from Monday's defeat to Russia.
4pm Hockey Men's Pool A: South Africa v Great Britain. The men's side aim to build on Monday's win over Argentina.
Judo Women's -70kg gold-medal contest. Followed at 4.10pm by the men's -90kg gold-medal contest.
4.15pm Handball Women's Group A: Great Britain v Brazil. Losses to Montenegro and Russia have left GB bottom of the table.
4.30pm Gymnastics Men's individual all-around final. After helping the men's team to bronze on Monday, Daniel Purvis and Kristian Thomas take part in the individual event, after both qualified in the top 10.
4.45pm Basketball Women's Group B: Great Britain v Russia. Successive defeats to Australia and Canada have left GB with work to do.
Volleyball Women's Pool A: Great Britain v Italy.
One win and one defeat thus far leave the home side's hopes in the balance.
TV: 6-7pm, BBC 2; 7-10pm, BBC 1
7.30pm Swimming The finals continue at the pool. The men's 200m breaststroke final kicks things off, followed by the women's 200m butterfly final at 8.09pm. At 8.16pm the men's 100m freestyle final takes place, while the women's 4x200m freestyle relay follows at 8.59pm.
7.45pm Football Men's Group A: Great Britain v Uruguay. Stuart Pearce's side face their final group match in Cardiff seeking the draw that will take them through to the last eight. An opening draw with Senegal preceded victory over the UAE and another win here would see them top the group.
TV: 10-10.40pm, BBC 2
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