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HAMPTON COURT, England (VN) — Neither of the newly crowned Olympic time trial gold medalists is the reigning world champion, but make no mistake about it, when it comes to racing the clock, Bradley Wiggins and Kristin Armstrong are the best in the world.
Each rider proved that in front of Hampton Court, and the rest of the world, on Wednesday, beating their respective rivals and confirming their status as pre-race favorites.
Both riders are previous Olympic champions, Armstrong the 2008 Olympic TT winner and Wiggins a two-time individual pursuit and one-time team pursuit gold medalist.
And for both riders, nothing less than a gold medal would be considered a success.
After winning the Tour de France — and its two time trials — Wiggins wasn’t going to be happy with anything but another victory. In fact, heading into Wednesday’s 44km time trial, Wiggins was undefeated in 2012 (six for six) in time trials over 30km. He’s now seven-for-seven.
“It was always all about gold, really,” Wiggins told a packed pressroom. “There was only ever one color medal. Anything else would have just been a consolation.”
And Wiggins pulled it off with room to breathe, beating Germany’s Tony Martin by 42 seconds.
Asked what makes Wiggins so much better than the rest, his peers had different theories.
American Taylor Phinney, who finished fourth, said much of it came down to Wiggins’ work ethic.
“I think over the years he’s found a higher level of dedication than most athletes are willing to commit to,” Phinney said. “Over the past two years he’s sacrificed a lot in his personal life to become the best in the word. He’s gone to live and train on a volcano, living without even a computer. It’s a testament to what it takes to be Wiggo.”
Bronze medalist Chris Froome, Wiggins’ teammate both at Sky and on Team GB, said Wiggins is able to create, and sustain, unrivaled power outputs.
“Bradley has a huge engine, and especially for a time trial like this, where you get up to a good speed and then keep it at a high power” said Froome. “And he showed today that he is the dominant rider at these kinds of events.”
If Wiggins’ victory was all about the coronation of a dream season, and on home turf, Armstrong’s victory was the end goal of a near-two-year journey that saw her come back from retirement, and childbirth, with one goal in mind — Olympic gold.
Though her comeback was a bit slow out of the gates last year, in 2012 Armstrong showed the world that she was back to the form that won her Olympic gold in 2008 and world titles in 2006 and 2009.
Prior to breaking her collarbone at the Exergy Tour in late May, Armstrong had won international time trials at the Women’s Tour of New Zealand and the Energiewacht Tour in Holland, as well as domestically at the Merco Classic, San Dimas Stage Race and Amgen Tour of California.
To understand how dominant Armstrong is as a time trial rider, consider this — though she was only beaten by 15 seconds, silver medalist Judith Arndt of Germany said she was “very happy” to have finished second.
(In fact, both 2011 world time trial champions, Martin and Arndt, are from Germany, and both finished second on Wednesday.)
“My goal was to win the gold, but Kristin is the best time trialist in the world,” Arndt said. “To finish within 15 seconds of her is a very good ride for me. I knew I would have to have an exceptional day to win the gold medal.”
And while Armstrong’s path to a second gold medal wasn’t an easy one, it made her win all the sweeter.
“It was the hardest journey,” Armstrong said when asked to rate her two gold medals and two rainbow jerseys. “It’s not been an easy 20 months coming back.”
Asked if Armstrong’s pair of Olympic gold medals, combined with her pair of world titles, was deserving of the tile of greatest female time trialist of all time, USA Cycling vice president of athletics Jim Miller said it was. “I’m biased, but I would say yes,” he said.
And after accomplishing her goal, Armstrong said this time she would hang up her race bike for good.
“Throughout the race, I kept telling myself that in cycling, you’re only as good as your last race,” Armstrong said. “This was my last race. I’m going out on top.”
And as it is with Wiggins, there are few that would disagree.