International Man, International Men’s Time Trialist of the Year: Bradley Wiggins
It was just after stage 6 and the “real” Tour de France had not yet started. Bradley Wiggins was hitting the rollers in a post-stage cool-down and a gaggle of fans and journalists crowded around the big pre-race favorite.
Up to that point, Wiggins had barely said a peep, something that was frustrating and confounding for the small army of British journalists who had arrived to chronicle Team Sky’s assault on cycling’s biggest race. Then a fan yelled out of the crowd to break the silence: “Give ’em hell, Wiggo! It will be Sir Bradley soon enough!”
Wiggins just shook his head, and muttered under his breath, “I don’t want anything to do with those wankers.”
Wiggins, ever the iconoclast, wasn’t riding for fame or the history books, and he certainly wasn’t racing the Tour to try and earn some sort of royal recognition.
A few days later, Wiggins nailed it in the first of two time trials to put his stamp on the Tour, a race that had eluded the grasp of a British rider for more than a century.
Wiggins’ near-perfect Tour is certainly worthy of knighthood, but he is clearly hesitant and weary of the full brunt of the media glare and what it means to lose his anonymity.
“My life’s changed a lot since winning the Tour, sometimes for the good and sometimes for the bad,” Wiggins said. “I have been able to experience and do things I could have never done. At the same time, my life will never be the same. It’s sometimes hard to get your head around that.”
Wiggins always has been the reluctant leader. After walking away from the track for good in 2008 as part of Team GB’s utter dominance on the boards, Wiggins methodically set out to win the Tour.
Many scoffed at the idea of Wiggins reaching glory in a grand tour; he had never done much to impress on the road earlier in his career, not to the point of being a realistic candidate for success at a three-week stage race. A fourth place in the 2009 Tour changed all of that.
A high-profile move to Team Sky, breaking his contract with Garmin, came with increased pressure and demands. A solitary, sometimes quiet individualist, it took a while for Wiggins to get used to being out front and in the spotlight. A disastrous 2010 Tour didn’t help, and after crashing out of the 2011 Tour, Wiggins seemed to shine a little less brightly.
But everything that went wrong in 2011 went right in 2012. An “easy” parcours, featuring more than 100km of individual time trials, meant it was Wiggins’ chance in a million. It was his Tour, and he grabbed it by the scruff of the neck.
“We had a plan for the Tour. It started a few years ago, to tell the truth, and everything just went about perfect this year,” Wiggins said. “It was a perfect course for me. I was able to avoid crashes, I didn’t get sick; nothing went wrong. I was lucky, because I know it can all come crashing down, but we also had a plan.”
It wasn’t just his Tour that was sublime, however; it was his entire season. Starting with victories in the Volta ao Algarve in Portugal, Wiggins went on a season-long winning binge that included seven time trial victories and GC wins at Paris-Nice, Tour de Romandie, the Critérium du Dauphiné, and the Tour. He capped his perfect season with gold in — what else? — the time trial at the London Olympic Games.
Just coming close to Wiggins was reason to celebrate. Andrew Talansky, who confirmed his talent with an incredible sophomore season, was almost more proud of his second place to Wiggins at Romandie than seventh overall at the Vuelta a España.
“To stand next to Wiggins at Romandie was one of my season highlights,” Talansky said. “The way he rode the Tour was perfect. Some people said it was boring. I thought it was just the opposite. The way Sky dominated the race and made it their own was absolutely incredible.”
It’s hard to put Wiggins’ season in perspective, because almost no one — not even Eddy Merckx or Lance Armstrong — has dominated a season’s major stage races in such an unfailing manner. Over the past generation, riders started to specialize, becoming sprinters, climbers, or time trialists, at the expense of all-around skills.
That’s not to say that Wiggins is going to out-sprint Mark Cavendish any time soon — though he did win a field sprint at Romandie in April — but he brings a surprisingly broad set of skills to the table. His track talents clearly help him in time trialing and pacing, but he also has the killer instinct, honed in racing the Madison as well as chasing his tail during his years on French teams.
Wiggins’ biggest advances came not in the time trial, but in climbing. His time trialing put him in position to win the Tour, but his climbing skills kept him there. No one could drop him — well, maybe teammate Chris Froome could have — but Sky put the brakes on its upstart lieutenant and kept the lid on their rivals.
“It’s not like I couldn’t climb before, it’s just that no one noticed,” Wiggins said with a shrug. “It’s not so complicated. You lose weight. You train every day. You live like a professional. If you have the motor, you can be at the front.”
Wiggins tries to make it sound easy, but it’s hardly so. Just ask Ryder Hesjedal, who crashed out just as the mountains loomed; or Cadel Evans, who seemed a step off his form all season long, and paid for it big-time in July.
For 2013, Wiggins is changing his game, taking aim at the Giro d’Italia. That means he probably won’t win the Tour again, opening the door for Froome to take a shot at yellow. For Wiggins, the decision to race the Giro goes to the root of his character.
“When I started to race, I wanted to try to win all the big races. I’ve won one Tour; that was always the plan. Now I’d like to win the Giro. I will go 100 percent and I know how difficult it is to race at the top level in two grand tours, but for one, the Giro is just as historic and important as the Tour,” he said. “I love racing the bike and there’s no country with as much passion as Italy.”
For Wiggins, it’s about the love of the game. The honors? He couldn’t care less.