Sir Bradley Wiggins' envisioned golden ending to 2013 did not materialise at the World Championships time trial event. Germany's Tony Martin beat the Briton by 46 seconds in an outstanding ride that saw him three-peat in the event.
On the eve of Wednesday's race in Florence, Wiggins told CyclingNews.com's Alasdair Fotheringham that a gold would "mean the most of all the medals I've won." Following his early withdrawal at the Giro d'Italia, he also missed the Tour de France, leading to what he described as "a lot of anger that acted as real motivation for this one."
The time trial silver (his second, having got one in 2011) was not quite the riposte the 2012 yellow jersey wearer had hoped to put to those who had doubted him earlier this year. Yet coupled with his Tour of Britain success, it has more than rescued a season that risked losing direction at one stage.
A crack at Martin's title ensured motivation was not in short supply from July onwards. In preparing for Florence, Wiggins won a time trial stage at the Tour de Pologne and another on the way to winning his home race last week.
With a role to play supporting Chris Froome's bid for the rainbow jersey in Sunday's World Championships road race, there is still work to be done before the season concludes (Heck, Wiggins enjoying more success in Team GB colours himself is not beyond the realms of possibility).
Wiggins revealed to The Times in August—here via BBC Sport—his intention to "continue to the next Olympics and try for a fifth (gold medal)." Given the effort a return to GB's team pursuit squad will require, 2014 is looking like being the 33-year-old's last full season on the road.
In the same interview, Wiggins conceded 2013 winner Froome was now Team Sky's main man for the Tour de France. While he will not get the chance to repeat his own success in cycling's most prestigious race, the sport will still offer plenty to excite him in planning his swansong.
As quoted by The Guardian's William Fotheringham back in June, Wiggins spoke of "other goals" besides the Tour and "other things I'd like to try and do."
Of these unknown "goals," Fotheringham notably mentioned Paris-Roubaix as a race the cyclist had "always enthused about."
Wiggins' former Sky directeur sportif Sean Yates questioned his former charge's chances of success here, in the October edition of ProCycling magazine. While not ruling Wiggins out, Yates believed "against the best, against (Fabian) Cancellara and (Tom) Boonen, I just can't see how he would win."
Speaking in June to VeloNation's Shane Stokes, British Cycling coach and Wiggins' mentor Shane Sutton was more confident of his protege's chances in the "Hell of the North."
Sutton cited Wiggins' "sustainable power" and time-trialling ability as being suitable for the long and often lonely stretches the race encompasses.
Coming first in Paris-Roubaix, or any of the classics for that matter, would certainly be difficult. The aforementioned calibre of competition in these prestigious one-day races is challenging enough. They are also thoroughly unique experiences—at least in comparison to that which you find in stage races and grand tours.
Team Sky have found that out the hard way. As dominant as they have been elsewhere, they have largely failed in this part of the early season calendar, with strategy denied the room to breathe like it can over a period of a few days or more (though next month's Giro di Lombardia offers one more chance to rectify their classics hoodoo this year).
With sufficient preparation, Wiggins might be the man to change this. He does have previous on the cobbles found in Paris-Roubaix, having finished a commendable eighth when the peloton rode over them on Stage Three of the 2010 Tour de France.
Beyond the spring, another crack at the World Championships time trial (in Ponferrada, Spain) could well hold appeal. And even if general classification glory at the grand tours is off the agenda, there is still ample motivation for riding them.
Wiggins' loyalty to Sky—if not necessarily Froome—would likely see him want to play a part in helping them retain the maillot jaune for a third consecutive Tour de France. With the 2014 edition's first three days taking place in England, the opportunity to begin that campaign in front of a home crowd will be tempting.
After this weekend there will be some time for Wiggins and the Sky hierarchy to consider their schedule for next year.
They planned both his and Froome's route to Tour success perfectly. If it is to be Sir Wiggo's last season on the road, they will want to do their best to ensure this one goes to plan too.
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