Sir Bradley Wiggins has hinted he may never target overall victory in the Tour de France again, citing the sacrifices that he and his family have had to make, although there is also an acknowledgement that Chris Froome may be emerging as Sky’s undisputed team leader.
Ahead of last year’s race, when he became the first Briton to win the maillot jaune, Wiggins spent months away from his family, either racing or at training camps, and the demands of preparing for a Grand Tour appear to be something he is increasingly reluctant to accept.
While he hasn't said outright he won't ride the race again, the approach taken by Sky last year and again in the months leading up to this year's race have seen a core group of riders race and train together, so while the pressure of not being team leader in the future may not be an issue, there would still be those enforced absences to deal with.
Speaking to The Guardian at an event on behalf of the charity Joining Jack, he said: "For me it was always about winning the Tour. I've done that. If I'm honest I don't think I'm prepared to make those sacrifices again that I made last year, with my family and so on. I've achieved what I've achieved. I'm incredibly happy with that.”
History strongly suggests that time is not on Wiggins’ side in terms of securing a second Tour victory. By the time of the Grand Départ in Yorkshire next year, he will have passed his 34th birthday; since World War II, only Gino Bartali in 1948 and Cadel Evans two years ago, have won the Tour after passing that landmark. Both were aged 34 at the time of those wins.
"If I do anything else after this it will be stuff I want to do, stuff that I'm willing to train hard and sacrifice for really,” Wiggins said. “For me it was always about winning the Tour, that was a huge thing for me, a huge journey; I've been doing that four years.
“I don't know if I'd want to go through all that again to be honest. I've always had other goals and there are other things I'd like to try and do."
For now, Wiggins isn’t saying what those specific goals may be, but he is on record as saying that Paris-Roubaix is another race he wants to win before his career is over.
While Wiggins had made noises about seeking to defend his Tour title – in apparent conflict with Sky’s insistence that Froome would lead its challenge – the knee injury disclosed at the end of May and confirmation last year’s winner would therefore miss the race, settled that debate at a stroke.
Ahead of last year’s Tour, Wiggins had been dominant in one-week stage races, his experience in leading those proving valuable by the time the Tour came around, and this year it is Froome who has taken a similar path as he has prepared for the race, which starts on Corsica a week on Saturday.
Wiggins has acknowledged the progress that Froome, runner-up to him in Paris last year, has made during 2013.
"Chris has really stepped up, he's delivered now and he looks like he's really going to be there for a few years to win a few Tours maybe,” he reflected.
"There has been a natural selection this year through Chris's performances and my performances that he warrants being the team leader; and if he wins the Tour, that continues through to next year.
“I can live with that. I didn't go to the altitude camp before the Giro because I wanted to be with my family; the kids are getting older and I like watching [his son] Ben play rugby and other things."
Wiggins has returned to training after an enforced two-week period off the bike to let his knee recover, and his next race is likely to be the Tour of Poland – which actually begins with two stages in the Italian region of Trentino – at the end of July.
He is also aiming to ride in September’s Tour of Britain: "That's a race I've always wanted to do well in. It's getting bigger every year and in terms of profile in this country it's a nice thing to do well in."
Last summer, Wiggins followed up his Tour de France victory with the fourth Olympic gold medal of his career, winning the time trial at Hampton Court, and it is believed he may target the world championships in that discipline at the end of September.
That would help him rescue something from a 2013 season that he started with high hopes of challenging for the maglia rosa at the Giro d’Italia, but his challenge there had already faltered by the time illness forced him to abandon halfway through the three-week race.
A return to Italy, and specifically Tuscany for the World Championships, is in Wiggins' sights, however: “The Worlds was always a focus and if anything this gives me a better opportunity to focus on it,” he explained.
“Doing the Giro and the Tour it was always a matter of how much would be left because there is an eight-week period from the end of the Tour to the Worlds which is a long time. This has given me time to stop after the Giro and I've got a nice chunk of time to get ready for the Worlds," he concluded.
If Wiggins has indeed ridden his last Tour de France, he will be only the fifth man in history (ignoring Floyd Landis, subsequently stripped of the title he won in 2006) to have won the overall in his final participation in the race – the last to do so was Fausto Coppi in 1952.
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.