After Laura Trott won Britain’s first gold of the competition in the women’s scratch race and Becky James claimed bronze in the women’s Keirin, the Lee Valley VeloPark witnessed the second fastest team pursuit race in history, following the London 2012 Olympic final which Britain won ahead of Australia.
But this time Australia’s Sam Welsford, Michael Hepburn, Callum Scotson and Miles Scotson won gold in three minutes 52.727 seconds and Wiggins, Jon Dibben, Owain Doull and Ed Clancy had to settle for silver in 3mins 53.856secs.
Britain had trailed for much of the four kilometres, but with two laps of the 16 remaining took the lead, only to unravel in the closing stages after Dibben had peeled off and Clancy struggled to cling on.
Clancy had back surgery last year and is still recovering, meaning Britain have more to give as they look for a third straight Olympic title in Rio this summer.
Wiggins, who is targeting a fifth Olympic gold and British record eighth medal in Rio, said: “We were here to win. We knew it would take a time like that to win and we didn’t produce it and they did.
“It’s really disappointing. But at the same time, when we look at where we’ve come from, we’re close.
“We knew we’d have a race on here and we’re going to have a race in Rio, but I think we’ll get over the line first in Rio.”
The 35-year-old Wiggins won the Olympic team pursuit title in 2008 before switching focus to the road and winning the 2012 Tour de France and Olympic road time-trial, his fourth Games gold.
“In 17 years of team pursuiting, that’s the strongest I’ve been,” Wiggins added.
“There’s a bit of life left in me yet and I’ve got another four, five months to try to get a little bit better.”
Wiggins paid tribute to two-time Olympic team pursuit champion Clancy, who was drafted into the line-up for the final after recovering from a career-threatening back injury.
“He (Clancy) is the strongest man in the team. He’s the one man that’s probably irreplaceable,” Wiggins said.
Another who could come into contention is Mark Cavendish, who was to begin his six-discipline omnium campaign on Friday. Cavendish is targeting Olympic gold in the omnium, but must be able to switch into the team pursuit line-up.
Two-time Olympic champion Trott put the disappointment of fifth-place in team pursuit qualifying earlier on Thursday behind her to win the scratch race, a non-Olympic discipline.
The four-time team pursuit world champion can win bronze at best in the event on Friday after combining with Joanna Rowsell Shand, Ciara Horne and Elinor Barker to clock 4:21.034 as the United States qualified fastest.
Only the winners of the fastest two first-round heats can make the final, but the remainder of the top eight are ranked according to time, meaning Britain can, at best, place third.
James was third in the Keirin, which begins behind a motorised Derny bike, behind Germany’s Kristina Vogel and Anna Meares of Australia.
James has had two years disrupted by a knee injury and illness since winning the Keirin and individual sprint at the 2013 World Championships in Minsk.