Editor’s Note: The following story appeared in the February 2009 issue of VeloNews. Bradley Wiggins finds himself in the driver’s seat after the Tour’s first time trial. Neal Rogers found him somewhere else entirely in late 2008.
You know the name, Bradley Wiggins, and his impressive track honors — three Olympic gold medals and multiple world titles. And you may know something about his 2008 roller-coaster season: the unexpected and violent death of his estranged father; candid admissions of alcoholism in his autobiography, “In Pursuit of Glory”; a public fallout with Madison partner Mark Cavendish after their botched Olympic performance; and a switch from Team Columbia to Garmin-Slipstream for 2009.
But what do you know about the man himself, the 28-year-old Londoner with the Mod haircut who joins America’s newest UCI ProTour squad as yet another arrow in its quiver of time trial specialists?
For starters, the long and lanky man known as “Wiggo” is calm and composed, yet always up for a laugh. At Garmin’s November team camp, his exploits included a naked sprint around a brewpub’s parking lot, a guitar lead during a team dinner performance of the Rolling Stones’ “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” and cartoonish impersonations of his new teammates’ American and Canadian accents.
Another defining facet of Wiggins’ personality is his penchant to tell it like it is. Whether discussing his personal successes or character flaws, his devotion to his wife and children, or the death of his father, Wiggins speaks his mind.
Example: Asked if he agreed that, after becoming the only man to successfully defend an Olympic pursuit title, he was, as Lance Armstrong put it, “the best f—ing pursuiter of all time,” Wiggins paused. “I don’t know, I’ve done what I’ve done,” he said. “It’s not really for me to decide that. That’s for other people to decide.”
Prodded to shed light on which pursuit rivals might cause him anxiety, he answered, “No one, really. In the early days, my biggest inspiration was [Australian] Bradley McGee. He was the one who inspired me to push harder and take it to another level. Once I conquered him, there was no looking back. The biggest challenge was always myself.”
Wiggins is not the biggest cycling star in the United Kingdom. That title belongs to Scottish track sprinter and triple-Olympic gold medalist Chris Hoy. But with his rock-star persona — from his Paul Weller haircut, to his collection of vintage guitars and scooters, and his tattoos, including the names of his two children, Ben and Isabella, across his heart — Wiggins is probably Britain’s most recognized cyclist.
“I think a lot of my popularity in the UK is because people see me differently,” Wiggins said. “I’m not a clean-cut athlete. Most of our Olympic athletes are sort of one-dimensional; all they’ve got in their lives is sport. I wouldn’t say I’m a rock star, but maybe I’m known a bit more for not being everything about cycling. I go to music gigs, or I get into magazines for having my photo taken backstage with Oasis.”
In an interview with The Sunday Times of London, Irish pro racer-turned-sportswriter Paul Kimmage asked Wiggins if he would describe himself as complex.
“I think in a lot of areas in my life I am extremely easygoing and a good laugh, none more so than when I have a drink,” Wiggins told Kimmage. “But in other areas I am quite an individual. I enjoy my own company. I think it’s part of the reason I excel at individual pursuiting. And I’ve got some complex things in my life that I am quite obsessive about, and I guess that goes into making me a complex person.”
That obsessive personality, he told VeloNews, encompasses everything in his life.
“My family, music, guitars, things like that,” he said. “I’m just as obsessive about playing my guitar as I am about my training. Whether I’m training, preparing for something, it’s all or nothing. Equally, when it’s over, it’s kind of completely the other way. When the big objective is over, it’s downtime.”
At Garmin’s November camp, Wiggins was clearly enjoying his downtime, relishing in the chance to join a new cast of characters including compatriot David Millar.
“It’s just so relaxed with this team,” he said. “There are so many characters, guys like Dave Zabriskie and David Millar, and some of the younger guys. On the French teams you have to be a certain person, otherwise you get the piss taken out of you and you get ostracized. Here, everyone can be themselves.”