Thu, 12 Sept 2019
HAVING become the most decorated Olympic athlete in British sports history, Sir Bradley Wiggins is enjoying recounting tales from a highly-eventful career as one of cycling’s most high-profile figures. Neill Barston speaks to him ahead of his Bradley Wiggins: An Evening With tour to The Anvil on Friday, September 27
BEING back amid the action covering one of cycling’s ultimate tests at this year’s Tour de France proved highly memorable for Sir Bradley Wiggins. The five-time Olympic gold medal winner was in his element across the Channel, describing it as an outstanding highlight of his experience in the sport. However, as he concedes, he doesn’t miss the intensity of preparing for one of the world’s most celebrated yet grueling spectacles. So this time around felt poignant for the champion cyclist, witnessing his former teammate Geraint Thomas narrowly miss out on gaining what would have been a second victory in the stellar French race.
“Covering the tour made me realise just how much I love it – when you are competing there’s a lot of emotion taken up with it all in dealing with the event to cross the line. It’s actually hard to get excited at the end of a race, so going back to it without all the pressure and watching it as a fan was great,” says the record-breaking athlete.
After seven years from his own career-defining victory in France, he says it was encouraging to gain such a warm reception from crowds. Despite this, he adds his commentating stint this summer couldn’t possibly tempt him out of retirement and prompt him to don his racing kit once again.
“Going back to the Tour and seeing some of those climbs brought back memories of just how hard it is. While people can make it look easy, it really isn’t, especially when you see guys getting taken out of the peloton, and some of the crashes you witness. It can be brutal. But it was a brilliant event and doing those interviews was something special. Cycling is all that I have ever known, right back to my school days when I was focusing on riding rather than all the lessons.”
He says that at 36 (he is now 39), it was not a difficult decision three years ago to walk away from the sport at a high point, enabling him to fully focus on the challenges of raising a young family with his wife at their home in Lancashire.
While the celebrity status following his unprecedented back-to-back victory at the Tour de France and London Olympics in 2012 may not have sat entirely comfortably with him, the wider effect of ‘Wiggo’s win’ was clearly tangible – cycling in the UK enjoyed a significant resurgence that is showing no sign of subsiding. The achievement led to his knighthood in 2013, which he built upon further at the Rio Olympics with a final gold as part of the winning British team pursuit squad. Wiggins is focusing on a number of projects including sports broadcasting and setting forth on his nationwide Bradley Wiggins: An Evening With tour this September. He’ll be reflecting on his lengthy career, and discussing some of his own heroes who feature in his latest book, Icons, who have proved an inspiration along the way.As he explains, another key area that is now close to his heart is that of
supporting the next generation of potential stars within his sport.
“Cycling is a great and necessary force in my life, and something I’ve been institutionalised in as well as being passionate about. If there’s a legacy from what I have done it’s with helping young people develop an interest in cycling and getting out there on bikes. For many kids there’s a lot that keeps them indoors on their iPads, so one of the great things about cycling is that it’s something you can do as a family and get outdoors – you can’t go out and play rugby as a family,” says the former Olympian, who has worked on developing a series of bikes for children.
These days, he enjoys riding near his home in the Preston area. As for his own formative experiences, he acknowledges a challenging upbringing meant his was far from a case of being an overnight success. He was born in Ghent, Belgium, but his mother soon moved them to London after Bradley’s father, who was also a cyclist, parted from the family and had no involvement with his son’s upbringing.
“In a weird way, my father is still my hero. I’ve kept two of his riding jerseys, though I detested the man, as he left us when I was just a baby. But my mum still glorified him, so if it hadn’t been for her, then I wouldn’t have had my career.”
As a 12-year-old he took up cycling on the same south London circuit his dad had once ridden, setting him on a long path to an eventual sporting career. However, as he recounts, kids from Kilburn were not expected to achieve any great mark in society. So taking an active interest in cycling was far from a recipe for fitting in within a tough neighbourhood.
He concedes he even resorted to wearing tracksuits over his riding gear for fear of homophobic abuse that might be dished out for his clothing.
“I was asked by a teacher when I was 12 what I wanted to do with my life and I said I wanted to wear a winner’s jersey at the Tour de France and she just laughed at me,” he adds with regret at the seeming lack of early support. As he explains, even after winning a bronze medal at his first Olympics at Sydney, there were expectations upon him to go and gain a ‘proper job’.
Such thoughts were never going to be a reality for him though and he earned his spurs in the early part of his career as a track specialist, before turning to road racing. “I never found that process of going to road racing hard at all, as I am someone who can be coached, so it came easily to me. If it was a question of having to lose weight for the Tour then it’s just something I did with hard work and stopped eating and looked at my nutrition.”
From a position of coming fourth in the Tour de France in 2009, observers began to take his credentials as a road-based rider seriously. But it was not until joining Team Sky in 2010 (recently renamed Ineos under new sponsors), which was to herald his most consistent era of success. While he rates the elite set-up as ‘very businesslike and unsustainable’ in regard to managing his family life, he accepts those years led to his biggest victories that gave him a major international profile.
“I know that it does mean a lot to other people that I won the tour and Olympics in 2012, but I wouldn’t be a very good person if those were the things that were the most important to me in my life.” These subjects and plenty more will come under the microscope as Sir Bradley offers up some insights into his eventful career. Expect plenty of memorabilia and anecdotes of racing rivalries that offer a personal window into his world.
“I’ve been enjoying doing these shows as I like to break down perceptions. I feel you never really know someone until you’ve heard their story properly. It gives me chance to meet people, and I can particularly remember speaking to one guy in Nottingham. He said his wife would really have loved the show, but she hadn’t made it as she had just died of cancer, so I just told him that she was right there with him. So with these kinds of shows, people see your emotions and I am looking forward to getting out there again,” Sir Bradley reflecting on one of the most eventful careers in cycling history.
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