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Speaking during a press conference this week, Wiggins admitted that a number of elements within racing had moved on since his retirement in 2016, but that in one sense there had been a return to the days in which discipline specialization was no longer such a factor.
During Wiggins’ heyday the majority of grand tour contenders would shy away from events like the spring classics, and especially races like the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix. That’s still the case for a number of three-week contenders but Tadej Pogačar, and to a lesser extent Primož Roglič have bucked that trend in 2022. Roglic has already raced on the cobbles in France this year, while Pogačar will race Dwars door Vlaanderen on Wednesday before making his Tour of Flanders debut this Sunday.
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“Ultimately it’s about putting your head down, your arse up and going as fast as you can. Cycling in its most basic form will always be about riding faster than someone else but it’s changed in terms of tactics and training over the last 20 years. It’s to the point now where I probably don’t know half of what’s going on. It’s changed immensely,” Wiggins said.
Pogačar comes into this block of cobbled racing with almost unbeatable form. He won the UAE Tour and Strade Bianche in impressive style before eventually missing out on a win in Milan-San Remo. Although his experience on the cobbles is slim, Wiggins believes that the Slovenian has the chance to make an instant impression.
“There’s every chance that he could win the Tour of Flanders. He’s an exceptional rider. I’ve seen him at the Tour de France first hand but to see him up close with 20km to go at Strade Bianche when I was on a motorbike, I really got a sense of how special he is. He separates himself from the rest of the world. He’ll certainly be in the mix at the Tour of Flanders. Whether he wins it or not remains to be seen but you wouldn’t put anything past him.”
“Cycling has changed. It’s gone back to how it used to be with Eddy Merckx where you have the big stars being competitive from the start of the season. Which is great for us as viewers,” he added.
Wiggins started his career on the track but as a road rider he initially focused on the spring classics and time trialing. During his Garmin and Team Sky days the attention shifted to winning grand tours but he phased his training back towards the cobbles in the latter stages of his career. He admitted that the cobbles came with a huge amount of risk and for that reason alone grand tour riders had moved away from the one-day discipline.
“I looked forward to it,” he said of the classics.
“More at the end of my career because you can wreck your season in them because there’s a danger element to them. You have to be in the front on every cobbled section and a one day classic at full gas is like doing a stage race. The mental and physical energy exerted and the risk. You can delay your season by five to six months. That’s one of the reasons why grand tour riders have tended to avoid these races in the past. A crash in Paris-Roubaix or the Tour of Flanders can ruin your Tour. That’s why it’s so impressive that Pogačar is riding Flanders. I did a lot of classics at the start of my career and then at the end when I wasn’t going for GC.”
Wiggins is a Discovery Cycling Expert for Discovery and GCN+, and is speaking at “Discovery’s Year of Cycling Launch.” Watch live racing and original cycling documentaries on GCN+.