The British champion, winner of the 2012 Tour de France, returned to action on Sunday in the Ghent-Wevelgem one-day race. He pulled out of the event when the winds ripped the peloton to pieces, but has already made an impression on his rivals.
“Wiggins will win Paris-Roubaix this year,” Ghent-Wevelgem winner Luca Paolini told Cycling Weekly.
“He has class. When he puts a goal in his head, it’s almost impossible that he makes an error on his way to it. He has Olympic gold medals, the Tour de France… Now he wants the Roubaix cobble trophy.”
Italian Paolini won Ghent-Wevelgem on Sunday when he attacked an escape group with Sky’s Geraint Thomas at six kilometres remaining. It was his biggest win in a career that began in 2000.
The 38-year-old team Katusha rider, however, does not lack experience. He often captains Italy’s team for the world championships because of his tactical knowledge.
He led Alexander Kristoff to victory in Milan-San Remo last year. This year, he must help his Norwegian captain through the remaining classics including Paris-Roubaix in two weeks’ time.
It is not just Paolini. Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo) and Fabian Cancellara (Trek Factory Racing), who crashed with two fractured vertebrae in E3 Harelbeke on Friday, are talking about Wiggins too.
Luca Paolini attacks from small lead group to win 2015 Ghent-Wevelgem; Geraint Thomas third
“We’ve talked. They are afraid of him for Roubaix,” Paolini added.
“Maybe last year it was a surprise for many, and maybe for Wiggins, too. He saw that day that he could return to win it.”
Wiggins raced to three Olympic gold medals on the track and won the Tour de France, but closes his chapter with team Sky in a series of classics. His goal is to win Paris-Roubaix before switching to the track again to focus on the Hour Record and the 2016 Olympics.
“It’s been months that he’s been working for this, working on equipment with Pinarello in December. His physical condition is perfect, he’s ready to win Roubaix,” Paolini said.
“There are few like Wiggins in cycling who can go from the track, the Tour and go on to do this. Maybe there are more of them now due to a strong track school, especially in Great Britain. Those riders understand how to study and to read their numbers. It shows that the track should be given more attention, something which my generation didn’t do.”
Other experts in cycling disagree with Paolini.
“I think he’s got what it takes, but no I don’t think he can pull it off,” explained team BMC’s sporting manager and former professional, Allan Peiper.
“It’s just for the simple reason that there are so many specialists there. There are so many guys who have had years and years of experience in Roubaix and know how to ride that race.”