Bradley Wiggins has endured a grim old year. In 2012 he won everything he wanted (Echoes of the football chant, ‘He wins when he likes, he wins when he likes, Bradley Wiggins, he wins when he likes').
This year, two time trial stage wins in modest races (Tour of Poland, Tour of Britain), part of the winning team in the team time trial during his ill-fated tilt at the Giro d'Italia as well as the overall classification in the Tour of Britain represent his tally for the year.
But the big prize for the second half of 2013 was always going to be the time trial world championships in Florence where Wiggins will be up against the strongest, most-motivated and best-prepared collection of time triallists of his generation.
For a variety of reasons, Wiggins, Tony Martin and Fabian Cancellara have never faced each other in this event for two years. This is not a time trial stage in a national Tour or mid-season stage race - this is a one-day, one-off event and you can't look into results from time trials in stage races as a form guide for this title decider.
While Cancellara and Martin battered themselves at the Tour of Spain, Wiggins opted to train in Majorca and in the UK before riding the Tour of Britain. There are obviously coaches and exercise physiologists better qualified to pontificate about the training effects of these different strategies, but the Tour of Britain finished on Sunday night, Wiggins flew out to Italy on a private charter that evening to be greeted by Rod Ellingworth who already had everything set up and waiting for Wiggins.
The Team GB plan is to try to keep Wiggins in a bubble, to try to keep him focused and in the same racer's frame of mind through to the title race on Wednesday. When Wiggins was interviewed post-race, he admitted his main feeling was one of "relief. You feel relief when you win it, you feel relief more for your team mates, you've fulfilled the job and you feel pressure for the whole week." The potential for Wiggins (or any rider) to finish a stressful week of racing by decompressing, coming down after a huge high, is significant.
The 64-million dollar question is whether or not Wiggins has the power to take on Cancellara and Martin on the essentially flat 55km World's TT course. In Poland, Wiggins hammered Cancellara (and World's outsider Taylor Phinney) on a course that was far more suited to Wiggins than the other two, hilly for the opening third, flatter for the rest.
After the drubbing in Poland (where he lost 56 seconds in 37km) Cancellara admitted, "I started too hard on the hilly part of the course and I forgot that this wasn't a one-off time trial, I rode it as though it was and that didn't work. You can't ride a time trial in the middle of a stage race the way you would if it was a one-off event." Cancellara might have gotten carried away in Poland, but it's unlikely he'll make the same pacing and power error in Florence.
And speaking of pacing and power, the last time Wiggins competed in the Worlds time trial, in 2011, he executed his race perfectly, riding a negative split to within one second. Which is to say the second half of his race in Copenhagen was one second faster than the first half. Pacing doesn't get much better than that and it won him a silver medal behind Martin, but ahead of Cancellara, who admittedly crashed on a corner near the end of the 46km race.
And then there's the small matter of CdA. Compared to his previous World's effort, Wiggins' aerodynamic drag on his ‘new' Pinarello Bolide and a rumoured new helmet design should reduce his drag co-efficient to his best-ever level of aero slipperiness. And he'll need to be as sleek as possible if rumours of power outputs are true.
The smart money says that Wiggins will need to generate and sustain between 450 and 500 Watts between Montecatini Terme and Florence to have a shot of the podium.
During the Tour of Britain the team didn't download his SRM data for analysis, (presumably figuring it was too late to do anything by then anyway) but Wiggins' time trial on stage three apparently saw the number ‘500' flicker on his SRM bar-mounted computer for short but sustained periods. If that's the case then maybe Wiggins is indeed in the best time trialling form of his life.
And, faced with Cancellara, Martin and the rest, he's going to need to be. If he can generate the numbers, deliver a perfectly paced ride, not be affected by any changes in the weather, post-Tour of Britain comedown and suffer no mechanicals, well, the podium surely beckons, even on the flatter Tuscany course.
Road World Championships 2013: Coverage index
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