Wiggins happy to be back in Cali

Bradley Wiggins is ready for better days after a gloomy 2013 season filled with adversity. Luk Benies/Getty Images

For cycling fans, May is not only about historic Italian sites, gelato, Tuscan wine and the Giro d'Italia. It's also about the redwood forests, In-N-Out burgers, great domestic wine and the Tour of California.

"It's become almost an obvious choice over the Giro, to be honest,'' 2012 Tour de France champion Bradley Wiggins said. "The weather is appealing this time of year. It's a week long. It's not too demanding, so guys can get back to Europe in terms of preparing for the Tour. And with the date change over the last few years, and the winners of the race, that has added a lot to the race.''

This year's Tour of California starts Sunday in Sacramento, includes one of the most majestic stretches of riding in the United States -- Stage 4 from Monterey to Cambria along Highway 1 -- and features some of the top names in all of cycling. Mark Cavendish, Peter Sagan, Jens Voigt and Wiggins will join top Americans Tom Danielson and Taylor Phinney on the eight-day race that ends in Thousand Oaks.

If Wiggins has some less-than-wonderful feelings regarding the Giro, that's understandable. After becoming the first British cyclist to win the Tour de France in 2012 (he also won the gold medal in the time trial at the London Olympics just weeks later), Wiggins sought to also become the first British rider to win the Giro. Instead, he endured crashes, bad weather, a crucial puncture and finally abandoned after Stage 12 due to a chest infection.

That wasn't the end of his troubles in what was a largely disappointing season. Wiggins also missed last year's Tour de France due to a knee injury. Sky Teammate Chris Froome, however, won the Tour in commanding fashion -- and Wiggins will ride in support of Froome's quest to win again this July.

"It's a complete role change really but it's just enjoyable being part of the team and I get a lot of satisfaction from that,'' Wiggins said of his support role. "You don't have as much pressure, either. In some ways, you might perform better because you don't have the pressure of having to win at the end of it.

"It's a different role but it's a role I enjoy, as well. I wouldn't be doing it if I didn't. It's just part of a successful team and a winning team.

"We have so much strength and depth. That's the beauty of this team.''

In addition to Wiggins and Froome, Sky also has Australia's Richie Porte, a potential contender for the yellow jersey if Froome falters. Sky's rise to cycling dominance isn't solely because of its depth of riders, though.

"I think it's just leaving no stone unturned,'' Wiggins said. "We've got a great support staff, great sports scientists. I know they say 'marginal gains' and it's almost become a joke with Team Sky. But it's never standing still and always looking for the next goal and not always doing what worked last year. That continual strive to innovate and find faster equipment and finding better ways of training and never really settling just for what worked last year. We're leading the way, really.

"Teams have always looked at who's the best. And they adopt their methods and close the gap and catch up to you. So it's always about moving on.''

Speaking of learning, by riding the Tour of California, Wiggins might avoid some unwelcome memories of last year's Giro, but he also will again experience what so many American cyclists must as a matter of routine: riding a stage race some 5,000 miles from home.

"And I think it's worse going back the other way [across the Atlantic],'' said Wiggins, who rode the Tour of California once before. "I don't know how they do it so regularly. I guess they get used to it.''

There may be many other top riders in this year's Tour of California, but no others who are referred to as "Sir" -- Wiggins' 2012 Tour and Olympic wins earned him a knighthood in Great Britain. His yellow jersey and gold medal also had a dramatic effect on cycling in Britain, inspiring many to get on a bike and ride.

He said that Lance Armstrong's reluctant PED admissions the following winter were only a blip in terms of the sport's popularity.

"There was an initial fallout but it seemed very short, and before you knew it, it had gone away and died down,'' he said. "And as far as the sport goes, people moved on. They still love it and still come out and watch it. It's just one of those things that prove no one person is as big as the sport. It moves on and carries on.''