July 22, 2012 – Whether he likes it or not, Bradley Wiggins’ history-making feat at the Tour de France is set to overshadow his previous gold medal-winning exploits in the Olympic velodrome. But the Belgian-born Londoner, who grew up in Kilburn dreaming of winning the coveted yellow jersey, is hoping his achievement will not go to his head.
“I’m determined to not let it change me,” Wiggins said on Saturday after virtually sealing his and Britain’s maiden win in the event with victory in the penultimate stage time-trial. “I’m not into celebrity life, red carpets and all that rubbish.”
For a man with a rocky childhood and a grudge against an absent father who died in a drunken stupor in 2008, Wiggins seems unaffected. He is a dedicated family man who appreciates simple things like “walking to the local shop to buy a loaf and a pint of milk”.
Born in Ghent, Belgium, Wiggins was brought up in London “listening to Oasis” and “dreaming of winning the yellow jersey” after his mother and father split up.
Garry, his Australian father, was a well-known track cyclist who specialized in Six Day meetings. However, Wiggins had little contact with Garry and still seems not to have forgiven him. Asked during this year’s race if he thought his father would appreciate seeing his exploits if he could, Wiggins replied: “I don’t know really. Depends if he was sober… I’ve put that one to bed.”
It did not stop him from harboring his own dreams of cycling success. While watching Tour de France hero Miguel Indurain stamp his authority on the race from 1991-1995, Wiggins began cycling at Herne Hill Velodrome, the venue for the 1948 Olympics.
At the age of 18 he became a junior world champion and just two years later won the first of his six Olympic medals – three of which are gold – at the Sydney Games.
In 2002, Wiggins made his first foray on to the road with the French team FDJ. Even then, there was nothing fancy about Wiggins, recalls FDJ team manager Marc Madiot: “I remember him wearing these tatty old trainers and an old England top, and I thought to myself, ‘This kid is hungry for success.’”
His first taste of the Tour de France in 2006 was a bitter one, as he finished 124th overall and complained “it is too hard”. A year later, it did not get much better, as his Cofidis team were forced out of race when team-mate Cristian Moreni tested positive for banned blood booster EPO.
Wiggins recovered to win two gold medals at the 2008 Beijing Olympics as he defended his individual pursuit crown and won team pursuit gold. On the road, his career had stalled, but his move to the Garmin team for the 2009 season was an inspired one, as he finished fourth overall at the Tour, being pipped for third at the finish by Lance Armstrong. For many it was a surprise, but he benefited from working with Garmin team manager Jonathan Vaughters and retained faith that his “engine” could bring as much success on the road as it had in the “comfort zone” of the velodrome.
“I was capable of so much more and the people around me were aware of that,” Wiggins said. “I’ve always had the engine, it’s just getting those people to get that out of me.”
Vaughters then fought a hard but futile battle to keep Wiggins when Sky put a lucrative contract on the table in 2010. Sky finally got their man, but despite having the best of sports science at his disposal, and losing several kilograms for the mountain stages, he flopped at the 2010 Tour de France, finishing 23rd overall.
His crash on stage seven last year was a huge blow, but was one of several setbacks that made him more determined coming into this year’s race. Having won the prestigious Criterium du Dauphine in June 2011, he rebounded from his Tour crash by finishing third at the 2011 Tour of Spain.A monk-like existence of training in Majorca and at high altitude in Tenerife helped him to wins earlier this season in Paris-Nice, the Tour of Romandie and a successful defence of his Dauphine crown. Wiggins might now lose some of his coveted anonymity, but if he survives the anti-doping scrutiny that has snared several past champions, he will become an inspiration to millions.
“When you are 12 and say you want to be the winner of the Tour de France, no-one imagines it is going to happen,” he said. “Here I am, 20 years on, and it’s a reality. Who would have thought a boy from central London would do it?”
Teams: Francaise des Jeux (2002-2003), Credit Agricole (2004-2005), Cofidis (2006-2007), Highroad/Columbia (2008), Garmin (2009), Team Sky (2010-present)
Principal results: Road
One-day races: British road race championships 2011
British time trial championship 2009 and 2010
Duo Normand 2007 (time-trial, with Michiel Elijzen)
World time-trial championship: 2nd
Stage races: Criterium du Dauphine 2011 and 2012 (plus 1 time-trial stage)
Paris-Nice 2012 (plus 1 time-trial stage)
Tour de Romandie 2012 (plus 1 stage and 1 time-trial stage)
Prologue of Tour de l’Avenir 2003
One stage of Tour de l’Avenir 2005
One stage of Circuit de Lorraine 2005 (time-trial)
Prologue of Criterium du Dauphine 2007
Prologue of Four Days of Dunkirk 2007
One stage of Tour de Poitou-Charentes 2007 (time-trial)
One stage in Trois Jours de La Panne 2009 (time-trial)
One stage Tour of Bavaria 2011 (time-trial)
One stage of Tour of the Algarve 2012 (time-trial)
Tour de France Two stage wins (Besancon TT and Chartres TT) 2012 14 days in yellow jersey
Overall: 1st 2012, DNF 2011, 23rd 2010, 4th 2009, DNF 2007, 123rd 2006
One stage win (Amsterdam time-trial) 2010 One day in pink jersey
Overall: 40th 2010, 70th 2009, 134th 2008, 123rd 2005, DNF 2003
Tour of Spain
No stage wins Four days in red jersey
Overall: 3rd 2011
Principal results: Track
Individual pursuit: 1st (2004, 2008) Team pursuit: 1st (2008), 2nd (2004), 3rd (2000) Madison: 3rd (2004, with Rob Hayles)
Individual pursuit: 1st (2003, 2007, 2008) Team pursuit: 1st (2007, 2008), 2nd (2000, 2001, 2003), 3rd (2002) Madison: 1st (2008, with Mark Cavendish)