Bradley Wiggins is a man of the people and a champion we can at last completely believe in
What would you be doing today? The day after you have just won the Tour de France? I know where I’d be and it would result in a nasty headache in a few days time. But not Bradley Wiggins. “I’ll just go on my usual loops and it will be nice to ride along with a bit of peace and quiet, enjoying riding the bike without all these bloody idiots on motorbikes taking photos of you!” said the new Tour de France champion.
To be fair to him, he would probably be doing the same as me if it wasn’t for the Olympic Games next week and his continued preparation to add a Gold medal in the time-trial to his recent Tour victory, and if that happens then you can really expect the celebrations to begin. But it’s the kind of answer that he provides that makes him different from the rest.
99 out of 100 athletes would not refer to the following media as “these bloody idiots on motorbikes” even if it was a little joke followed by a good laugh. Wiggins has vowed that his Tour win won’t change him and unlike many others, you actually believe him. He’s the down-to-earth, bog-standard, lets-go-for-a-pint, every day Brit who you would find in a lot of people in your local cycling club with the only difference being that Wiggins happens to be very good at bike riding by comparison to the rest of us.
Winning the Tour de France was a dream come true for Wiggins. He told us this weekend how he had posters of Miguel Indurain on his wall and wrote in his column for The Guardian about his first visit to the Tour in 1993.
There is a set of railings, about six or eight of them, just before the entrance to the Place de la Concorde, about a kilometre from the Tour de France finish on the Champs-Élysées. I stood on those railings with my brother and my mum on 25 July 1993 watching the Tour de France go past.
It all went by in a flash, but I spotted Miguel Indurain in the yellow jersey — about to win his third Tour in a row — and Gianni Bugno in the rainbow jersey of world champion.
It was my first sight of the Tour. We’d come over from London for the weekend, gone up the Eiffel Tower the day before, then watched the Tour come into town on the Sunday. I remember thinking how big it was, how huge it was, seeing the riders whizzing past. I never imagined that 19 years later I’d be coming down there in the same position as Indurain.
It sounds cliched, but it’s the stuff of childhood dreams really. It’s what I’ve dreamed of for 20 years but I never dreamed it could become reality.
“To be in this position now and emulating some of my heroes, like Miguel Indurain… it’s amazing,” he would say yesterday. “In England it’s (all about) football and every kid’s dream is to lift the FA Cup at Wembley. This is my Wembley. That is what it means to me.”
Indeed, it was an unlikely rise for a kid who grew up in London at a time that cycling wasn’t on the radar whatsoever. “Kids from Kilburn don’t become favourites for the Tour, you either become a postman, a milkman or you’re working at (bookmakers) Ladbrokes,” he said when talking about his youth. Yet Wiggins, whose abscent father was a cyclist, fell in love with the sport when he seen Chris Boardman on a Velodrome in the early 90’s and decided he wanted to give that a go.
By 1998 he was a Junior pursuit champion of the World on the track and by 2000 he was at the Olympics winning a Bronze medal aged just 20. His rise was meteoric. At the 2004 Olympics in Athens, he became the first British athlete in 40 years to win three medals at the one games with a Gold in the pursuit, silver in the team pursuit, and bronze in the madison.
In 2006 he took a crack at the Tour de France, if only to help with his long-term training for the track. He found it hard but he suffered over the mountains and finished the race, but just when he felt like celebrating the achievement, that years winner Floyd Landis tested positive for drugs. Wiggins, a man who had always steered clear of that side of the sport, was furious telling reporters how Landis could have put him, and others, at the back of the race outside the time-limit because he was on drugs and that this was playing with their potential for future contracts and therefore, their very livelihoods.
In his autobiography, “In Persuit Of Glory” he addressed the memory again. “I felt physically sick when I heard the news. My first reaction was purely selfish and related only to me. ‘You bastard Landis,’ I thought. ‘You have completely ruined my own small achievement of getting around the Tour de France and being a small part of cycling history. You and guys like you are pissing on my sport and my dreams. Why do guys like you keep cheating? How many of you are out there, taking the piss and getting away with it? Sod you all. You are a bunch of cheating bastards and I hope one day they catch the lot of you and ban you all for life. You can keep doing it your way and I will keep doing it mine. You won’t ever change me, you sods. Bollocks to all of you. At least I can look myself in the mirror.”
It was exactly the thoughts of fans everywhere and for the first time we had heard it so passionately from a rider himself.
He came back the following year, but once again had his hard work thrown back in his face and this time from someone much closer to home. His own team-mate at Cofidis, Cristian Moreni, tested positive for drugs and after stage 17 Wiggins had his bags searched by French police as the entire team withdrew from the Tour. An emotional Wiggins stormed home from the race and claimed at the time that he was finished with it. He dumped his team kit in a bin at the airport and for a long time it looked like he might walk away from the sport.
Then came a contract with the High Road team, a team dedicated to clean cycling and at last Wiggins found a place for himself. The track was still his go-to event however and it took him to the 2008 Olympics in Beijing where, by now a six time World Champion on the track between the years of 2003 and 2008, he won two Gold Medals to increase his career haul of Gold’s to three.
After that Wiggins, on the advice from some that if he dedicated himself to it and changed his style and training approach could win the Tour, left the track scene behind. He turned up at the 2009 Tour a lot leaner and ready for the demands of the mountains. He rode a superb race failing onto to stay with the likes of Alberto Contador, Andy Schleck, and Lance Armstrong, which says a lot in itself given recent revelations, but joined Britain’s Robert Millar as the highest finisher ever by a Briton at the Tour de France.
In 2010 he moved to Sky, the new British run team to head up their charge for glory and the belief that within five years they could not just win stages in the Tour, but win the Tour itself. It seemed unthinkable and completely unrealistic, and the pressure caught up with Wiggins when he finished 24th in that years Tour. Bad luck then played its part in 2011 when Wiggins crashed out when many believed he could have contended for a podium place and he proved such expectations right, as well as those of the team and that five-year-plan, by finishing third in that years Vuelta.
In 2012 Wiggins zeroed in on his goal and went all tunnel vision on us. He locked himself away in remote training locations building himself entirely for a real run at the Tour de France. With guys like Landis, who had destroyed his dreams in 2006, long gone and the sport taking a turn for the better, Wiggins at last looked like he could prove that a clean cyclist could win the Tour. He showed up from his training camps only long enough to win whatever race he entered, from the Paris-Nice to the Tour de Romandie, to the Critérium du Dauphiné. Nobody had ever won all three in one year and it earmarked him as the Tour favorite.
The rest as we know is history. He pulled on the Yellow jersey after stage seven and defended it all the way to Paris doing what no other British rider had done before. He may not have rode into Paris having achieved the Yellow jersey with the kind of style and flamboyance that riders such as Marco Pantani, Lance Armstrong, Floyd Landis and Alberto Contador had, but then again, I’m bloody glad he didn’t.
It’s knowing that he wasn’t doing it that way that probably caused him to explode at the press conference after stage eight when asked what he thought about those who wondered whether the Tour could be won clean? “Honestly, they’re just f**king w**kers,” he roared. “I cannot be dealing with people like that. It justifies their own bone-idleness because they can’t ever imagine applying themselves to anything in their lives. And it’s easy for them to sit under a pseudo-name on Twitter and write that sort of s**t rather than get off their arses in their own life and apply themselves, and work hard at something and achieve something. And that’s ultimately it.”
Unfortunately such questions were a burden he was always going to have to endure as leader of the Tour de France, as Cadel Evans did the year before, thanks in no small part to the likes of that “bastard Landis”. When he realised it was a missed opportunity to once again prove his anti-doping stance and that he had reacted in his press-conference out of frustration and in the heat of the moment having just finished a stage, he took to his column in The Guardian once again to remind everyone of where he stood with the same kind of passion that has made him like one of the fans:
The things I’ve said in the past, such as at the start of the 2006 Tour when I turned up for a first go at the race and Operación Puerto kicked off, what I said when Floyd Landis went positive, and what I said when I was chucked out with Cofidis after Cristian Moreni tested positive in 2007.
On the way home after that, I put my Cofidis kit in a dustbin at Pau airport because I didn’t want to be seen in it, and swore I would never race in it again, because I was so sick at what had happened. Those things I said then stand true today. Nothing has changed. I still feel those emotions and I stand by those statements now.
He then wrote of how his family came before the potential gains from cheating.
Doping would simply be not worth it. This is only sport we are talking about. Sport does not mean more to me than all those other things I have. Winning the Tour de France at any cost is not worth the possibility of losing all that.
Wiggins proved it could be done his way and it could be done without stooping to dirty levels. Wiggins proved that someone could come from being a short-track specialist to Tour de France winner — the equivalent of going from an Olympic champion in the 200 meters, 400 meters and 2×400 meters to an Olympic champion in the marathon within four years. Wiggins proved that a kid from Kilburn could become a Tour favorite. Wiggins proved the Sky goal that they could win a Tour within five years was indeed inaccurate … they did it in three.
Don’t expect Wiggins to become a high flying celebrity now. Don’t expect him to change. He has said it won’t change him, but he understands his new roll will make him a poster pin up for young kids just as Indurain was for him. But don’t expect him to be different in front of a microphone as a result.
The Bradley Wiggins tomorrow will be the same as the one who slogged his way through the 2006 Tour and the one who dreamed of winning the Tour years before when he first started racing. “I love cycling. I’ll always be riding my bike,” he said yesterday. “I’ll probably be there in 20 years time marshalling on the corner somewhere for a local ’10’.
And what of the future? Well, he said it’s all about Gold in the Olympics now but has said little about thereafter except what he hopes his achievements can do.
“Hopefully someone will see this and go, ‘I want to be like Brad Wiggins, I want to go and ride my local time trial.’ It’s nice because you are actually doing something through your life that is inspirational.”
And that’s good for the future of cycling.