PARIS (AFP) — 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 Belgium-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 his father 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 during 1991-95, 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,’” said Madiot.
His first taste of the Tour de France in 2006 was a bitter one, as he finished 124th overall and complained that the race was “too hard.”
A year later, it did not get much better, as his Cofidis team was forced out of the race after teammate Cristian Moreni tested positive for testosterone.
Wiggins recovered to win two gold medals at the 2008 Beijing Olympics as he defended his individual-pursuit crown and also 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 7 last year was a huge blow, but it also made him more determined coming into this year’s race.
Having won the prestigious Critérium du Dauphiné in June 2011, he rebounded from his Tour crash by finishing third at the 2011 Vuelta a España.
A monk-like existence spent 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 defense of his Dauphiné 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?”