Sir Bradley Wiggins says he feels “liberated” to be competing at the inaugural Tour de Yorkshire 10 months after being forced to watch the Grand Depart and “twiddle his thumbs”.
The biggest name in British cycling was the glaring omission from last year’s memorable Tour de France weekend here in Yorkshire after being left out of the Team Sky squad because he did not complement their yellow jersey contender Chris Froome.
But he is back in the White Rose county providing the race organisers and the thousands of fans expected to line the street with their box office star.
Wiggins is launching his new developmental team at the three-day journey from Bridlington to Leeds, after bringing to an end his relationship with Sky that was both historic and occasionally fractious.
He does not expect to compete for honours – Rotherham’s Ben Swift is among the race favourites with German super star Marcel Kittel the man to beat in the sprints – but 35-year-old Wiggins cut a relaxed figure at the team presentation in York last night.
“This all happened because I didn’t get selected for the Tour (de France) last year,” said Wiggins. “I sat at home twiddling my thumbs and just thought, ‘sod this, I’m going to have my own team next year and go and race in the UK’.
“With it being the first year of the race and the attraction of riders like Kittel, it’s nice to be part of it and support it and who knows what it might grow to in a few years?
“If it’s half as good as it was last summer here then it’ll be a great race. I only saw bits on the telly, but it was all the country could talk about. Every time there’s a huge cycling event in this country people just flock to it.
“It’s brilliant for the sport and brilliant for us riding it.”
Wiggins is in Yorkshire to help prepare for his attempt on the hour record in Manchester next month.
It is about the only honour he has not won in a glittering career on the track and the road.
His training recently has been centred on the track as he chases a glorious swansong in the team pursuit at the Rio Olympics next summer, when he is likely to team up with Ed Clancy, who is one of a number of Yorkshire riders scattered throughout the British and continental teams this weekend.
With the pressure off, Wiggins is determined to enjoy his overdue visit to Yorkshire.
“The goals have changed now. I’m not training for these road races any more,” he said.
“I’ve changed great lengths to prepare for the hour record.
“When you’ve won the Tour it’s about managing people’s expectations, it’s not about coming here trying to win this thing; it’s about doing a job for some of the younger guys in my team.
“I still need the road races so it’s important to come here and be involved, but I’m not the Brad Wiggins of 2012; I’m 10 kilos heavier with a big fluffy beard.
“I kind of feel liberated in a way, I feel like I can have a dig and have a go this weekend.
“At Sky there’s always someone who’s capable of doing something, but here we’re just a bunch of young kids who just want to race, so that frees me up to try something.
“I can’t remember the last time I attacked in a race. So we’ll see what happens.”
This weekend will not be the only time Yorkshire cycle fans will get to see Wiggins in action.
The reigning world time-trial champion has signed up for the City Road Club 10-mile time-trial in Hull on May 16.
“Part of it is just putting the number on my back and just racing,” said Wiggins of his surprise participation.
“It fits in well with the preparation for the hour record and it’s a fast course.
“It’s nice to come back and race a British time-trial as world champion. The entry for that event was for riders who could race 22 minutes and slower, and I got in because I haven’t done a time-trial (of that length) in years.
“It’s nice for the other 80 or so riders that they get to ride against the world champion.”
Before that, there is the small matter of the 174km from Bridlington to Scarborough today, when Wiggins will gain the warmest applause from the crowd, no matter where he is in the peloton.