How quickly things change in the world of sport.
Just more than a year ago, Bradley Wiggins was being lauded as one of the greatest British sportsmen ever; by the end of 2013, he was almost a forgotten entity. 2012 was the perfect year for Wiggins: he became the first British winner of the Tour de France, won gold in his home Olympic Games, was voted BBC Sports Personality of the Year, and then awarded a knighthood. It doesn't get much better than that.
So it proved for Wiggins. His 2013 season was a considerable let-down in comparison: he had stated that he was targeting a Giro d'Italia-Tour de France double but in the event, he failed to finish the Giro and did not even start the Tour due to injury. Wiggins' early season last year was also marred by incessant rumours of a feud within Team Sky between himself and Chris Froome, who would go on to win the 2013 Tour.
Loading article content
It seemed reasonable, then, to assume that Wiggins' star was on the wane. At 33 years old, he was in the twilight of his career and with four Olympic gold medals, six World Championship victories and a Tour de France yellow jersey, it would be understandable if he had lost his motivation somewhat. Added to that, Froome looks almost certain to be the designated Team Sky leader for the foreseeable future at the most famous Grand Tour, precluding Wiggins from regaining his title.
In 2013, Wiggins appeared to lack focus, any tangible goals seemed absent and he is a rider who needs goals in order to perform. Contrast this with 2012, where his ambitions were obvious, thus giving him the drive and focus required to push his body to its limit in training every day. The following year, the absence of these goals looked to affect his performances badly, resulting in just one victory for the Brit, at the Tour of Britain.
2014 could be Wiggins' saviour, though. On Sunday, he will ride in the Paris-Roubaix, also known as the Queen of the Classics and one of the most iconic one-day races in cycling. Wiggins has said that it is one of his lifelong goals to win Paris-Roubaix, a race which is renowned for its notoriously difficult cobbled sections.
"Roubaix has a special charm," said Wiggins last month. "I always remember the press cuttings from when I was a kid. Roubaix has always meant something and I'd love to win it, to be part of that final shakedown, that final 40 or 50 kilometres."
To date, Wiggins has been something of an enigma in the Classics. He has ridden all five but has failed to set the heather on fire with his results - his best performance came at Paris-Roubaix in 2009, where he finished 25th. But the Brit has tailored his training to focus on Paris-Roubaix this season. He has gained eight kilogrammes in weight in preparation for the race and has done a recce of the cobbled sections to ensure that he knows exactly what to expect on race day.
Wiggins is far from the favourite to win Paris-Roubaix, but if he succeeds, or even manages to be on the podium, it would be a remarkable achievement. He has already successfully completed several transformations throughout his career, first from a track rider to a time trialist, then to a Grand Tour contender and winner. If Wiggins were to then reinvent himself as a Classics rider, he would manage something that few others have.
Perhaps the most important indicator in predicting Wiggins' performance is that he appears to be happy once again. In 2013, he seemed uncomfortable, and at times, downright unhappy in playing a supporting role to Froome - understandable when Wiggins had become so accustomed to being king. But if reports are to be believed, Wiggins and Froome have buried the hatchet and the 2012 Tour winner is happy to play a supporting role to Froome at the Tour this summer.
That Wiggins has reset his goals appears to have paved the way for a softening of his attitude towards playing a supporting role to another rider, a position which cannot be easy to swallow for someone with the palmarès which Wiggins possesses.
A win in Paris-Roubaix this Sunday is far from a formality for Wiggins - the favourites are Fabian Cancellara and Tom Boonen, both of whom have a formidable record in the Classics. However, this Classic is the one which best suits Wiggins' riding style, and considering that no Brit has ever emerged victorious in its 118 year history, he will not be short on motivation.
Wiggins looks to be a new man, at least in attitude. If he can bring his best form to the start-line, negotiate the cobbles and gets that little bit of luck which is needed, he may just secure what would be the most unexpected of all his victories.