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Wiggins takes back seat as Sky rallies around Boasson Hagen

Tour de France champion would be first Tour winner since Hinault in 1981 to win Paris-Roubaix, but he's starting as supporter to Boasson Hagen

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KORTRIJK, Belgium (VN) — Sky will start Sunday’s Paris-Roubaix with its star former Tour de France winner Bradley Wiggins planted firmly in the back seat. Norwegian Edvald Boasson Hagen will lead Great Britain’s super team, with Wiggins and Geraint Thomas lending their hands in support.

“We have such a strong team here. It’s credit to the team,” Wiggins said Friday. “You can’t start out with six leaders in Paris-Roubaix, you have to have an idea of where you’re heading, a direction, but that doesn’t mean that everyone will peal off in the Arenberg and leave Eddy to get on with it. It’s a case of having numbers.”

Wiggins, who won the Tour and just about every other stage race in 2012, set Paris-Roubaix and the Amgen Tour of California as his targets during the off-season. Without a recent one-day race result and having last started Roubaix four years ago, the black and blue team passed over the multiple-time Olympic champion, handing the keys for Roubaix to Tour stage winner Boasson Hagen. (Classics stalwart and Omloop Het Nieuwsblad winner Ian Stannard crashed out of the northern classics at Gent-Wevelgem.)

Last year the Norwegian helped Bernard Eisel to 12th and finished 47th himself. Last Sunday, He and Wiggins rode in supporting roles for Thomas in the Ronde van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders).

“In Roubaix, you have a couple of guys who will sacrifice themselves early for crashes and punctures, but when it comes down to it, if you play any role for the team that’s of real importance, it’s going to be in that last 60 to 70 kilometers, which means having numbers in that final,” said Wiggins. “Any team that does well, or any individual who does well, has teammates round with them 50 kilometers to go. That’s the goal, to be close to Eddy until that final.”

Boasson Hagen accepted the challenge of leading the British team at the “Queen of the Classics.”

“Why not Brad or Geraint as the leader? I have the legs, I get the chance,” Boasson Hagen said. “It’s up to the sports directors, though. Also, what happens in the race is often different from what’s on paper. We need to see what happens, and you need luck.”

Wiggins trained on his bike Friday while his younger and quieter teammate spoke to the press. He arrived later and drew more attention from a press corps ever eager to confront the Tour champion with whom it has had a tumultuous relationship. He agreed with Boasson Hagen, in that anything can happen, and said that the more Sky riders up front, the merrier.

“These races have a way of opening up, things happen, you keep riding and you find yourself back in the front,” said Wiggins. “Things happen to others as well. Eddy could puncture at a crucial stage and we would have numbers there, people to step into his shoes. It’s the same as [Omega Pharma-Quick Step], which has many cards to play on Sunday.”

He would not say what result he wants for himself, explaining that he merely wants to avoid the race’s pitfalls and have a chance at staying on the wheel of riders like defending champion Fabian Cancellara (Trek Factory Racing).

“If you could put yourself in your physical form with 30 to 40 kilometers to go, drop yourself out of a helicopter onto Cancellara’s wheel to just see if you can hold it when he goes … that’s an ideal scenario, but obviously, it’s 220 kilometers before that of little French guys coming underneath you, chopping you, calling you a wanker and all this. I have to get through all of that to be in that position to be able to try to stay with those guys when they go.

“It’s not like a road race, where you can just sit there all day, stop for a wee, come back, pose for the cameras … all that sort of stuff. It’s like no other race.”

If Wiggins did win the race dubbed “The Hell of the North,” he would become the first Tour de France champion to do so since Bernard Hinault in 1981. He would also complete his journey from Olympic track champion to Tour winner to one-day warrior.

Anything is possible, he said, “It’s not just pie in the sky. I can do well.”