Bradley Wiggins says the final week of the Tour de France will go a long way to determining whether he returns to the track to bid for more Olympic medals in London in three years time.
The 29-year-old lies sixth overall as the race enters the Alps on Sunday, and a top ten finish in Paris could lead to him turning his back on the track.
“The last two weeks has shown me what I want to do for the next four years of my life,” he told Cycling Weekly. “The Olympics are fantastic for the two weeks they’re on every four years, but the Tour de France is where it’s at. It’s fantastic to be a part of the race, and I want to see how far I can go.
Does that mean he may not try for a third successive gold in the individual pursuit at the London Olympics?
“I really don’t know. I can’t see it now. I don’t have to go back but it all depends on this week really. A lot has changed in the past two weeks for me. If I can finish in the top five, or top 10 or even top 15, it opens the door for the future. I’ve seen enough to come back next year and try again.
With a week to go, Wiggins is eyeing a high finish overall, and hasn’t ruled out the chance of being in the top three come Paris.
“I was one of the strongest guys on Andorra. There were guys who were in worse condition than me. I might not be able to stay with [Alberto] Contador, or Andy [Schleck] but I feel good, I feel fresh. Even if I have a horrendous day and finish 15th overall, I have seen what could be possible.
“But I’m aiming high. I still feel fresh. Contador and Andy are going to be difficult to stay with in the mountains, but Andy’s a minute behind me at the moment, so he’s got some time to make up. We still don’t know what Lance [Armstrong] has got. But can I climb with Nibali, or Evans, or those guys? I think I can.
“I’m aiming high, so why not think about the podium? Last year I said I wanted three gold medals at the Olympics and I came away with two. I am going to give it everything this week and see what happens, because I don’t want to reach the end of this Tour thinking ‘what if’. If that means I have a bad day and slip down, then it won’t be because I’ve not tried my hardest.”
And his progress on the road this season will dictate how the rest of his career turns out. Although success on the track can bring Olympic medals and fame, finishing in the top 10 of the Tour would open doors for Wiggins and enable him to structure his season around specific races.
“I’m not going to stick my neck out and say I can win the Tour in the next four years, but can I win the Vuelta? Maybe. Can I win the Dauphiné Libéré, or Paris-Nice or the Tour of Switzerland? Why not,” he said.
“Me talking about winning a grand tour like the Vuelta, I’m sure it’ll make people laugh, but if you set the bar high enough maybe I’ll come close to it. People who don’t set the bar so high will maybe meet their goals, but they won’t go to the next level.”
Wiggins goes into Sunday’s 15th stage in fourth place overall, 46 seconds behind the race leader Rinaldo Nocentini of AG2R.
After the Tour de France he will ride the ENECO Tour in Holland and Belgium, then home fans will get a chance to see him at the Tour of Britain, before he has a serious crack at winning a medal in the World Time Trial Championships in Switzerland.
See Thursday’s edition of Cycling Weekly magazine for more on Wiggins.