Despite being dropped by Team Sky, Olympic hero is still a huge inspiration to his team-mates at in Glasgow

What a coup it is for the Commonwealth Games to have Sir Bradley Wiggins, the white knight of the London Olympics, riding on the track next week.

Casual cycling fans might find themselves wondering where the real action is: over in the Pyrenees at the Tour de France or inside the Glasgow velodrome.

In truth, Wiggins’s hopes of riding at the Tour were taken out of his hands even before he crashed in Switzerland a month ago, after Team Sky’s general manager David Brailsford intimated to him that he would not make the team supporting Chris Froome’s abortive bid.

But the beauty of cycling is that it comes in so many different formats.

Few riders have more pedigree on the track than Wiggins, the owner of three Olympic gold medals in individual and team pursuit. Next week, his return to the indoor events should bring a welcome fillip to a group of riders who underperformed at the world track championships in March.

“For me personally, to have someone like Brad back with the team at track sessions is really, really good,” said Jess Varnish, the 23-year-old who took bronze in the team sprint in Cali, Colombia, four months ago.

“For young riders – and I still class myself as one even though I’m not now – we’ve always had these amazing athletes to look up to in the squad: Vicky [Pendleton], Chris [Hoy], Brad. And when they go you think there’s no one there you can watch, and see how classy they are.

“I really love having him back in the squad and it’s great for the team. It is reassuring, just to see him doing what I’m doing, changing his gear, rolling around on his road bike between sessions. I quite like tattoos and he’s got sleeves drawn on his arms so I’ve been talking to him about them.

“You just chat to him like he’s a normal person, that’s what people prefer.”

Some sceptics have questioned whether Wiggins’ focus on road racing over the past six years might have drained the fast-twitch muscles from his legs. It is unquestionably a big shift to go from three weeks of teeth-grinding struggle to a four-minute burnout. But his selection for the 4,000 metre team pursuit is not in doubt.

It may surprise some that Wiggins’s plan – at the moment – is to leave the Commonwealth Games after that first Thursday, rather than ride in the time-trial the following week. He did wallop his Team Sky comrade Geraint Thomas, as well as defending champion Alex Dowsett, in this format at last month’s national road championships in Monmouthshire.

But Wiggins’s management indicated on Friday that his training schedule had not allowed him room to prepare for multiple events in Glasgow. And in the absence of Jon Dibben, who broke an elbow in training recently, there is no one else who can step in as the fourth team pursuiter alongside the settled combination of Ed Clancy, Steven Burke and Andy Tennant.

“Brad hasn’t touched a track since 2008, although he did one World Cup [in 2011],” said Clancy. “He just wants some confirmation that he’s still got it, that he can still be a big player in the team pursuit. The way he’s riding at the moment, it looks like that is the case. Even when he dropped back in, he wasn’t too far from his best.

“I remember the first day he turned up. There’s us guys: Burkey who is Olympic champion, Tennant who has been there, but Brad’s still a celebrity to us. When he walked in, we thought ‘We haven’t seen this guy for a while and since we last saw him he’s won the Tour and what not.’

“He’s a big deal these days. I didn’t want to say anything stupid. You test the water, see how things are. But he’s dead cool, just like he always was.”

With or without Wiggins, the Commonwealth Games were always going to reshape the whole team’s agenda, not least because the home nations will be competing against each other rather than combining as usual under the Team GB umbrella.

This shift of emphasis has brought a freshness to the last couple of weeks’ preparation, which found the riders at the National Cycling Centre in Manchester hoarding their own personal data rather than sharing everything as normal. Given the stale feeling that afflicted the men’s squad in Colombia four months ago, head coach Shane Sutton must be hoping that a change will prove as good as a rest.

“To my mind, we were overtrained at the worlds,” says Clancy now. “We worked too hard if anything and went there completely burnt out. I’ll argue that to the bitter end. We were tired, and it was unfair that a few of the guys got that stick. So Brad coming in it’s a big boost for the team. It’s another strong guy.”

It is also a chance for some of the young riders to think back to the moments that first inspired them. This is especially true for Joanna Rowsell, the only British cyclist to take two gold medals at the Cali meeting in March. Now 25, Rowsell came into the junior reckoning in 2004, after a talent-spotting delegation had picked her out from her classmates.

But she had no cycling background at all, to the point where she had barely even ridden to school. Later that summer, she became fascinated by Wiggins’s achievements at the Athens Olympics.

“Brad was one of my big motivators,” says Rowsell. “Watching the Athens Games was a big eye-opener. I remember seeing him win the individual pursuit and feeling that I liked the look of that one. I knew nothing about cycling and when I went to my first training camp they must have thought they had the wrong girl because I turned up in trainers and tracksuit bottoms, I didn’t know how to use cycling shoes and I immediately fell off.

“It has been a long road from there to here.”

The path of sport meanders down some unexpected courses, and a few months ago Wiggins might have been expecting to follow Glasgow’s track events from the Team Sky bus. Now that he is committed, however, his star quality seems to be invigorating the rest of the England squad.