By Julien Pretot
LONDON, July 30 (Reuters) – Whether Bradley Wiggins is the best British cyclist has produced will no longer be questionable if he follows his Tour de France title with Olympic time trial gold on Wednesday.
Wiggins, who had the honor of ringing the Olympic bell for the first time at the opening ceremony for the Games, is already a three-times Olympic champion on the track, which puts him just behind Chris Hoy who has four.
But this month, the kid from Kilburn in northwest London became the first British rider to win the Tour, the most illustrious of all road races, prompting Hoy to label the performance “the greatest British sporting achievement”.
“It’s humbling, really,” said Wiggins, who has been humbling his rivals all year in the event run against the clock, including in the final time trial of the Tour de France.
“It was the best time trial I ever saw,” said Britain’s director of performance David Brailsford.
Wednesday’s time trial is a relatively flat 44-km course starting and ending at Hampton Court Palace, perfectly suited to Wiggins’s abilities, with an uphill drag on Seven Hills Road.
But there is a question mark regarding the effort he expended at the front of the peloton in Saturday’s road race as the British team attempted, and failed, to take world champion Mark Cavendish to gold.
“The road race is very unpredictable, my event is the time trial, it’s much more quantifiable,” said Wiggins, who has been doing everything to stay fit after sealing the Tour victory eight days ago.
“I feel a lot better than I normally do when I finish the Tour de France because with the Olympics we’ve had to keep going: riding the bike Monday, Tuesday, still watching what you’re eating, not drinking,” the 32-year-old explained.
“You would normally have a week off the bike. Can’t be bothered to go out of the house, that sort of thing. It’s been a good distraction, the Olympics.
“It’s been a good way to soak up what happened last week. Normally you’d be riding the bandwagon. It’s been a good excuse to get back to what you do best, which is riding the bike.
“Nothing changes really, the benchmark is there from Saturday (July 21).”
His main rivals, however, have been off their bikes for some time.
German Tony Martin, the man who beat him to the world title last year, pulled out of the Tour with a wrist injury following a crash, while defending champion and world bronze medalist Fabian Cancellara left the Tour to be with his wife who gave birth to their second child.
The Swiss suffered a bruised shoulder when he crashed into the safety barriers during the Olympic road race and will make a last-minute decision on his participation, but he still felt pain in training on Monday.
“Tony had no choice, he broke his wrist,” said Wiggins.
“Fabian had another child, it was family circumstances, he had already planned to pull out (of the Tour).”
Other potential medalists include Tour runner-up Chris Froome of Britain, who also finished second to Wiggins in the three-week race’s two time trials.
When asked about a medal in the time trial, Froome said: “That would be phenomenal.”
France’s Sylvain Chavanel, American Taylor Phinney and Spain’s Luis Leon Sanchez could also be in the mix, as well as usual time trial suspects Gustav Larsson of Sweden or German Bert Grabsch.