PONFERRADA, Spain (VN) — Gold medals, world titles, yellow jerseys, and even knighthood — it seemed Bradley Wiggins had every accolade he could acquire in cycling.
On Wednesday, in one of his most sublime performances on the bike, the Brit added the lone missing jewel to his otherwise illustrious cycling crown, beating three-time reigning champ Tony Martin (Germany) to add the world individual time trial title to his near-perfect palmares.
It was classic Wiggins, with a gutsy, pure, and seamless performance in the 47.1km race against the clock.
“To add the world title to the [Tour] and the Olympics, it’s great. I could live with it if I had never won it, but it’s nice to add it,” Wiggins said. “It’s a nice way to end the season like this after missing the Tour. I’ve worked specifically for this, and trained for this event since the Commonwealth Games [in August].”
Wiggins stopped the clock in 56 minutes, 25.52 seconds (50.083kph), the only rider to average faster than 50kph, and dealt the heavily favored Martin a stunning defeat.
The German was no match against Wiggins in the late going, as the final 15km traced over the hilly circuit course to be featured in the road races. Martin’s three-year run as world champion ended after stopping the clock 26.23 seconds slower. Tom Dumoulin (Netherlands) rounded out the podium with third, 40.64 seconds behind.
“It’s fantastic. It’s like the king is back,” said Australian coach Bradley McGee. “I saw him come across the line, and I have never seen Wiggo so exhausted. It’s a Wiggo I’ve never seen before. He obviously turned himself out. It was a fantastic duel, with Tony Martin still on top of his game. It’s the real deal.”
Coming into Ponferrada, Martin was the heavy favorite to win a record fourth title. On longer power courses more than 35km, he’s been almost unbeaten over the past several seasons.
The opening kilometers of the race saw Wiggins stay close to Martin, just four seconds slower at the first time check at 12km over flat roads. At the day’s second time check at 23km, still on flat roads, Wiggins pulled slightly ahead, just three seconds faster. At 35km, midway up the first of two short climbs, Wiggins was nine seconds faster, but he didn’t want to know what was going on.
“I didn’t have any time splits until 5km to go. It was important to pace your own ride, and I didn’t want to change my tactics. I had a game plan in my head,” Wiggins said. “When I got to the top of the final climb, when they said I was 10 seconds faster than Tony, I nearly s—t myself.”
Ever meticulous, Wiggins prepared specifically for the Ponferrada course. The lumpy final 15km tipped in favor of the skinner Wiggins, who said he trimmed down to his Tour de France weight of 159 pounds for the worlds.
He said “freshness” was also in his favor. A visibly weary Martin raced both the Tour and Vuelta, winning time trials in both races, whereas Wiggins, who missed the Tour for the second year in a row with Team Sky and returned to track racing over the summer, started last month’s Tour of Britain with less than 30 days of racing in 2014.
Without knowing the time gaps, Wiggins paced himself through the opening half of the race, over mostly flat, open roads. When the course hit the circuit course with two short climbs in the final 15km, Wiggins hoped to gain the winning advantage over the heavier, more powerful Martin, who tips the scales at 168 pounds.
Wiggins, 34, was all about focusing on his ride, and more specifically, on his power meter.
“On a course like Florence in last year’s worlds, Tony is unbeatable,” Wiggins said. “On a course like this, it becomes about power to weight. I knew if I could hold 470W, 480W, [I’m] going to go faster. On this course, I thought I could get the better of him.”
Martin, 29, was gracious in his comments about Wiggins, who also beat him for gold in the London Olympic Games in 2012.
“I said before I am not a machine,” Martin said. “Almost everyone expected me to win, but I was already feeling tired in the team time trial [Sunday]. That was not good for the motivation. I was feeling tired, and I could not battle Bradley in the final part of the race.”
Wiggins was quick to point out that his reign as the time trial world champion will be short-lived. He confirmed he will not defend his world time trial crown next year in Richmond, Virginia, nor will he defend his Olympic time trial title in Rio de Janeiro.
Instead, Wiggins already has new goals on his radar, with a return to Paris-Roubaix and an attempt at the hour record, likely sometime next summer, before a full-time return to the track for a shot at the team pursuit gold medal in the 2016 Rio Olympics to cap his brilliant career.
“This time next year, it will be less than one year from the Olympic Games, so I will be in full track mode. I cannot imagine I will make the trip to America for worlds next year,” Wiggins said. “And post-Rio, I will not go to Qatar. I will be 37. I will be old enough to race masters. This will be the last one.”
On Wednesday, he clearly saved the best for last.