Wiggins proved last year that he was a true force to be reckoned on the cobbles with a top ten finish at the Roubaix velodrome after a solid if unspectacular 32nd in the Ronde.

But that was then and this is now.

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By choosing to wind down his career at Sky and shift his focus to the track, Wiggins has effectively nullified his result from last year. It's no longer relevant in the grand scheme of things - any progressive arc that may have been can no longer be. There ain't no cobbles in Rio.

Besides, while all the talk was of Wiggo's strength on the cobbles last April it's easy to forget that Thomas actually finished two places above his team-mate in seventh position at Roubaix.

Since then, Thomas has transformed into a genuine contender for the cobbled classics. He's shed a load of weight, he's riding with confidence and he has his tactics nailed. Sure, he still has a propensity to hit the deck or be blown off his bike - but it's not stopping him from getting results.

That the wind is in Thomas' sails is undeniable: last Friday's victory in E3 Harelbeke was the biggest one-day win of the Welshman's career - and arguably the most important classics scalp for Sky since their inception five years ago.

Having formed the decisive move alongside the likes of Zdenek Stybar (Etixx-QuickStep) and Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo) on the Kwaremont climb, Thomas caught out his illustrious rivals with a surprise dig four kilometres from the finish before soloing to glory.

Two days later, Thomas followed his E3 heroics up with third place in Gent-Wevelgem, defying the truly horrific conditions to secure another podium for Sky.

The 28-year-old did this despite at one point ending up in a heap on the grass verge after being pulverised by a gust of wind.

pays tribute to Belgium's favorite son at . l

Hours before Thomas remounted and fought back into the select chasing group that was pursuing lone leader Jurgen Roelandts of Lotto-Soudal, Wiggins had clambered off his own bike and called it a day. According to reports, the 2012 Tour de France winner threw in the towel after about 100km of the 239km race, shortly before the first cobbled climb of the day in Cassel.

No one can begrudge Wiggins withdrawing from a race that was bordering on the apocalyptic. With gusts of 80kph coming from the North Sea and tearing through the peloton, some 160 riders abandoned in total.

The roads were strewn with debris from trees and bushes, riders had to lean into the crosswinds at crazy angles, the peloton was split into multiple groups and many a man found himself buffeted into ditches or flung off the road.

There's no two ways about it: Gent-Wevelgem was utter carnage.

Carnage in with driving wind, pounding rain, crashes and riders being blown off the road...

One cycling scribe compared it to a boxing bout gone to 20 rounds, another claimed he had never seen a race as chaotic. Such was the angle of riders' bikes, it looked like they were cornering even on the straight roads.

Strong Chava is fighting against the wind!

Bikes even ended up in road-side streams...

"Unbelievable" wind in Belgium's classic

Trek's Gert Steegmans even found himself going for an impromptu swim after just 10km - followed no doubt by a sauna at the nearest hospital...

in one of the ditches at de Moeren

So, yes, no one can blame Wiggins for calling it a day. It's what most of us would have done.

We all know that he is targeting Paris-Roubaix as a final farewell, so why would a rider who is notoriously vulnerable in poor weather jeopardise everything to finish a race that is not even ideal preparation for Roubaix? Well, for the same reason that a rider who has the Tour of Flanders in his headlights mans up and continues to the bitter end.

With its cobbled climbs and Belgian flavour, Gent-Wevelgem is very much a precursor to Tour of Flanders - and Thomas' purple patch of form has come at the perfect time ahead of the first of back-to-back monuments on Easter Sunday.

While Wiggins will ride Flanders in what may seem like a last-ditch effort to get some miles under his belt following this week's Three Days in Depanne, Thomas will be in it to win it.

Fabian Cancellara is injured and Tom Boonen doubtful for both events, opening the door for Thomas to make a real splash in both the major cobbled classics. And it's Thomas - and not Wiggins - who has the form and momentum ahead of the most eagerly anticipated period of the season so far.

Thomas is currently second in the WorldTour standings behind team-mate Richie Porte and Sky currently top the team rankings. There's a palpable sense that this is their time. Sir Dave Brailsford has taken stock of last year's disappointments and the team have come back firing on all cylinders - whether we're talking one-day classics or one-week stage races.

While Astana are faced with losing their WorldTour licence and Tinkoff-Saxo are in disarray following a string of poor results and the shock sacking of team manager Bjarne Riis, serene Sky are soaring sky high. The atmosphere is good, the results are coming and expectations have rocketed.

All this has absolutely nothing to do with Bradley Wiggins, who has fast become an anachronism both at Sky and in road cycling.


For all his shortcomings, Wiggins is still one of those rare riders who, when utterly focused, is able to deliver. He could still surprise us by pulling something out of the bag at Roubaixand he may well put in an important stint as a domestique at Flanders.

But the omens are not looking good. Wiggins' preparation for Roubaix couldn't be further removed from that of Thomas. He was underwhelming in both Oman and Paris-Nice and then finished 44th in Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, won by team-mate Ian Stannard for a second consecutive time.

Stannard's lingering injury from Milan-San Remo underlines just how important Wiggins could still be for Sky at Roubaix. An engine like his is not to be baulked at and no one's suggesting that, despite his lack of race days in 2015, Wiggo doesn't turn up at the start line.

But Sky cannot afford to make Wiggins one of their protected riders - certainly not at the expense of Thomas. The Welshman has spent hundreds of hours of his life burying himself for Wiggins in the past; it's time for Wiggins to do the same for Thomas for one afternoon. Because if anyone is going to win for Sky at Roubaix, it's him - but he may need Wiggins' support.

Of course, it need not have been this way. Wiggo's performance in last year's Paris-Roubaix suggested that he could be a factor in the race for a number of years - while Luca Paolini's victory in Gent-Wevelgem showed that even a bearded 30-something can successfully balance personal ambition and teamwork.

Wiggins is four year's Paolini's junior and could easily have matched the Italian's longevity on the road should he have wanted to. But he had a dream of retiring in Rio on the track in 2016 and you can't argue with that.

But Rio and Roubaix don't go hand-in-hand, nor do Team Wiggins and Sky. Either you are in or you're out, and the sooner Wiggins extricates himself from the middle of this increasingly toxic Venn diagram the better.

It's now Thomas' chance to shine - and he must not be eclipsed by the farewell of a legend.

Sep Vanmarcke (LottoNL-Jumbo), Sagan, Roelandts and - licence pending - Lars Boom (Astana) will be tough individuals to beat even for an in-form Thomas. And with the likes of defending champion Niki Tepstra, Stijn Vandenbergh, Zdenek Stybar and Guillaume van Keirsbulck, Etixx, as usual, will be a collective force at both Flanders and Roubaix with power in numbers.

But Etixx have been shown up this season as a team that often fails to capitalise on their numerical advantage, promising so much but ending with very little. For many years, Sky also failed to deliver on their promises in the classics arena. Thomas has the power to rectify that now - starting this Sunday in Flanders.

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