The latest column from Brendan Gallagher look at the world of cycling, with a World Championship special looking at Michal Kwiatkowski’s victory in Spain at the weekend.

HAIL MICHAL KWIATKOWSKI, a brilliant young world champion and the rider leading a cycling revolution in Poland that is beginning to run the Great Britain miracle very close, at least on the road.  As well as loving the panache of his victory in Spain and there was also something very familiar about his modus operandi and after grappling with that question for a few seconds, it all came rushing back. Llandudno and Bristol Downs at the recent Friends Life Tour of Britain. 

Both in their own ways were dummy runs for Ponferrada, exploring the nuances of tactics he felt might succeed in Spain.  In Llandudno he set off at the front coming around the Great Orme and looked superb although ultimately the sprinters just came through and he switched to Plan B and helped shepherd Omega Pharma Quick-Step teammate Mark Renshaw home. 

And then in Bristol he went off the front of the bunch again to chase down the escapees Jack Bauer and Albert Timmer and claim a stunning stage win. We said then that Kwiatkowski looked like the strongest of contenders for the Worlds – in fact we spoke about little else in the post-race press conference – and for once we were 100% correct.  


It was no coincidence that Kwiatkowski chose the Friends Life Tour of Britain to prepare for the worlds and ditto Brad Wiggins, the World Time Trial Champion who relished the chance of getting 1,300 manically ridden kilometres in his legs.  Britain's showcase stage race is forging a very strong identity of its own, morphing from a fledgling end of season jolly to a blistering eight day race which to a man the peloton rated as the toughest race outside a Grand Tour this season. 

Bookended by two city circuit sprints and a time trial, in between we had the equivalent of six Classics on the trot which not only made for sensational racing but was absolutely perfect preparation for this year's World Championships. The unpredictability of the six man team format is also ideal for the World Championships when the majority of teams start with six riders while even those who qualifying nine get whittled down to five or six riders going into the last 100-kilometres when the heat comes on. 

In recent years, other than the pure sprinters course at Copenhagen in 2011 when there was only ever going to be one kind of finish, the Worlds is invariably a race when you need to think on your feet and if you want to sharpen up mentally the Friends Life Tour of Britain scores heavily as well. You need to keep your wits about you at all times. 

Another factor in its favour this year was its timing. The final day in London was a full two weeks before the Men’s Road Race at the Worlds and ten days before the Time Trial, allowing ample and much needed recovery. That's just about perfect and although the organisers are subject in part to the whims of the UCI schedulers the Friends Life Tour of Britain needs to lobby hard to retain its slot and that period of downtime before the Worlds. 
In the past it has suffered occasionally running concurrently with the Vuelta which has traditionally been considered the best warm-up for the world's but that is definitely changing. The Vuelta has become such a savage race that two weeks recovery is sometimes not sufficient while the Friends Life Tour of Britain offers an extremely attractive alternative. 

The Friends Life Tour of Britain is establishing an enviable niche that we can see elsewhere in sport.  If you are serious about winning the Open Golf championship these days, you almost certainly need to be at the traditional warm-up event, the Scottish Open. Equally although there are many fine lawn tennis events leading into Wimbledon, none prepares you better for what lays ahead than the Queen's tournament. And in 2014 if you intended to win a World Championship road title, the Friends Life Tour of Britain was the place to be. 

Above – Michal Kwiatkowski in the Chain Reaction Cycles Points jersey, which he won along with finishing second overall

TWO outstanding young sprinters largely held sway at the British National track championships last week with Jess Varnish and Callum Skinner each going home with a suitcase full of Gold medals but it was the performance of Dame Sarah Storey in taking the Points title that really caught my eye. 
Varnish and the less experienced Skinner collected four Gold medals apiece and both have big roles to play for Great Britain heading to Rio 2016 but what about Storey winning the Points title a month shy of her 37th birthday. The illustrious Paralympian started the 25km race looking to just set a high pace for Pearl Izumi teammate Katie Archibald but found herself in such good form that she took two laps off a field including Elinor Barker and Laura Trott to win at a canter.

Storey missed out on a place at the 2012 Olympics by the narrowest of margins although she went on to win four Paralympic Gold medals. At that point the dream of competing in the Olympics and Paralympics seemed to fade…but I wonder. The new 4km, four rider Women’s Team Pursuit is still in its infancy and there might yet be a place for a rider with her massive horsepower. Alternatively she might also be able to undertake a team role in the Women’s road race. Watch this space. 
I WAS both amused and bemused to see Bradley Wiggins' season described as patchy and up down following his extraordinary World Time Trial Gold medal last week in Spain which from the side-lines I would rate as possibly his best ever ride. Totally controlled but right at the very limit of his capabilities, I’ve certainly never seen Wiggins so wasted and spent at the end of race. 

Patchy and up and down? Really? The first top ten by a GC rider at Paris Roubaix in yonks; comprehensive and convincing winner of the Tour of California when he also won the Time Trial in fine style; commanding win over Geraint Thomas and Alex Dowsett at the British National Time Trial championships; Commonwealth Games Silver medal winner in the Team Pursuit; third in the Friends Life Tour of Britain where he took the quick-fire prologue length TT in sensational fashion and oh yes I almost forgot that World Time Trial champion, the slayer of the 'unbeatable' Tony Martin.


Above – Wiggins on his way to time trial success in London during the Friends Life Tour of Britain

It's not long ago that such a rock solid and accomplished season would have been hailed as one of the best ever by a British rider and might even have warranted a nomination for SPOTY. In fact in pure athletic terms his victory over the remarkable Martin would still comfortably make my top three of any British sporting performances this year.

The only real sense in which Wiggins' season has been patchy is that Sky didn’t select him for the Tour de France. Life is too short to embark on that debate again, other than to say that I don't think it was Sky's finest moment and that both Wiggins and Chris Froome will look back on 2014 later in their lives and shake their heads with bemusement and regret. What the bloody hell was all that about?

What last Wednesday on Ponferrada demonstrated yet again however is that when Wiggins really wants something, when he finally brings that magpie brain to concentrate fully on a well-defined aimed he is truly formidable. 

We should have known of course. I only heard him speak about two subjects with passion and crystal clear clarity this year. One was his desire to ride the Tour de France as a team worker and secondly was the World Time Trial Championships. When the former was denied him every ounce of effort went into the latter.
I caused a bit of a Twitter storm after Wiggins victory over Martin when I suggested that Wiggins can probably boast the most varied palmares in cycling history. Immediately the defenders of the flame snarled back – what about Merckx, Hinault, Coppi, Anquiteil – which was to rather miss the point and take offence where none was intended.

It's the versatility I was emphasising. This is a man who has won a World Madison Championship on the boards, ridden in world record breaking Olympic Team Pursuit squads, won a clutch of Olympic and World Individual Pursuit titles; an out and out ‘trackie’ who became a Grand Tour  winner, a Grand Tour rider who might yet earn a podium at Paris Roubaix; a Tour de France champion who thought nothing of providing a world class sprint lead out for colleagues while wearing yellow; an Olympic Time Trial champion and now a World Time Trial champion who defeated Tony Martin at his absolute height. 

So what now? He could park the world hour record on a very high shelf tomorrow so good is his form and a part of me is uneasy that he is not doing just that. You have to strike when the iron is hot in sport. I always recall Iwan Thomas, in the form of his life in 1998, squandering a British 400m record and the rare chance to go sub 44” when he jogged down the last 100m of the Commonwealth Games semi-finals in 1998. In fact he spent most of that time enjoying a gossip with Jamie Baulch. He duly won the final the next day but never again in his life did he remotely rediscover that form. Injury, illness, loss of motivation. You never know what is around the corner.

In an ideal world Wiggins would shred the Hour record tomorrow but there is a certain logic in leaving it until next June as a carrot that will add extra motivation to his training during the winter.  The next four or five months will be a bloody hard slog, he needs to bed back down with his under-performing GB Team Pursuit squad who have a mountain to climb in the next two years before Rio 2016 if they are to get back on terms with the Aussies.  Thoughts of an Hour record attempt and as serious pop at Paris Roubaix in April will make that process just a tad easier.  As an individual Wiggins needs those milestones along the way, they offer both comfort and motivation. 

The "end game" is beginning to evolve. A final Olympic gold; the Hour record and a Paris-Roubaix podium. They are the three big targets for what is left of his career and I have a tenner that says he will achieve at least two of them.