Bradley Wiggins insists his days of cautious classics are over as he prepares to take risks in the battle for positions at the Paris–Roubaix on Sunday.
The former Tour de France winner's precise intentions for the race known as the 'Hell of the North' have not been clear to outsiders but Wiggins says he ”wants to do well” following his solid display in the Tour of Flanders last Sunday.
“It's no secret,” said Wiggins to Cycling News. “You don't start that race unless you want to do well. I wouldn't have risked it in Flanders if I didn't want to do well in Roubaix. Whether it happens or not is another thing.”
His decision to to focus on the Paris–Roubaix has come as a surprise to most. The last time a former Tour de France winner was victorious in Roubaix was back in 1981 when Bernard Hinault won in the velodrome.
Eddy Merckx and Felice Gimondi are the other two to have done it in the last half century.
Despite not being new to Paris–Roubaix - he participated just three years ago - Wiggins admits that he has never before been able to take the risks necessary to compete in the difficult event.
With the Tour de France no longer the all-dominating objective the Englishman feels he can afford to have a real go on the cobblestones.
"Obviously I have no bigger picture and I can afford to take the risks in these races now, whereas a few years ago I rode Roubaix but there was always one mind on the Tour," he said.
Wiggins replaced Ian Stannard in Sky's Tour of Flanders team and he enjoyed the experience but he admits fighting for positions is not his strongest suit. “I had really good legs on Sunday,” he said. “I'd be lethal if I could ride positions.”
And it is for that reason exactly that his peers and cycling experts harbour doubts as to whether Wiggins can compete with the favourites in the one-day classic in northern France.
Lampre-Merida's Filippo Pozzato reckons Wiggins's hesitancy to take risks might cost him in the aggressive race while Tom Phinney (BMC) believes the Englishman could profit from the fact that the positional battle is a little less intense at the Paris–Roubaix than in Flanders.
"It’s a bit more on having the legs in Roubaix, so as the race wears on, fewer guys can keep fighting, and I think that’s where I’ll certainly come to the fore is in the final 50k because I’ll have the legs and the length," Wiggins said. "Obviously there’s a lot that happens before then and it’s avoiding all of that stuff."
However, even in his own mind, Wiggins remains an outsider who will struggle to keep up pre-race favourites such as classic specialists Fabian Cancellara, who won the Tour of Flanders, and Tom Boonen. The 33-year-old knows his got a difficult task on his hands.
"It would just be nice to be in their company in the final. I think that’s going to be my biggest challenge, to be in a position to be with those guys. That alone would be quite something," he said. “After that, thoughts of how to beat them hasn’t even entered my mind. It would be a big honour just to be with those guys in that position."
After victory for Stannard and third place for Edvald Boasson Hagen at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad as well as Geraint Thomas's third place at E3 Harelbeke, Team Sky will want to end their solid classics campaign on a high note.
As ever with Sky, however, the leadership question remains something of an uncertainty. Thomas insists unfolding events in Roubaix will decide who will captain the team. He believes Sky should not be counted out.
“Roubaix is a different race,” Thomas said. “Roubaix suits our team better than Flanders. A lot can happen in Roubaix. It’s not just the big, big favorites, like Flanders. Roubaix is a bit more open. I’ve said all along I am happy to do my bit for whoever is the leader. … Brad is obviously strong, because once he gets going, there’s no stopping him.”
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