By: Victoria Yates
Bradley Wiggins was born on the 28th of April 1980 to his Australian father Gary, an endurance cyclist, and Linda, a school secretary from England. His parents had met when Linda, then 17, was watching a race in London where Gary was competing. The pair soon married and moved to Ghent, where Wiggins was born. His father however, hard drinking and pugnacious, walked out when his son was two years old. Wiggins moved with his mother to live with his maternal grandparents on a council estate in Kilburn, London.
His interest in cycling began to develop from an early stage after watching Chris Boardman win Gold in the 4km pursuit (his father’s best event) at the Barcelona Olympics. That year Wiggins first raced at London’s Herne Hill Velodrome. Success soon followed with Wiggins representing Camden at the London Youth Games as a teenager (he was inducted into their Hall of Fame in 2010). And in 1997 he won the individual pursuit at the Junior World Track Championships in Cuba.
2000 was a big year for Wiggins, first taking silver in team pursuit at the Track Cycling World Championships in March before heading to Sydney with Team GB for his first Olympics, gaining the bronze in the same event. In his private life he faced new challenges. His father, hearing that Wiggins was in Australia, arranged for a reunion with his estranged son whom he had not seen in eighteen years.
He went professional in 2001, briefly joining the Linda McCartney team before it disbanded, and riding for Francais de Jeux, and Credit Agricole. Despite his present day fame, for some time his track successes far eclipsed his road racing credentials. Over the next few years he continued to rack up ranked appearances, maintaining his Silver position at the Track Cycling World Championships and the Commonwealth Games in 2001, coming in first at the 2002 individual pursuit at Track Cycling World Championships.
By the time the Athens Olympics came around in 2004, Wiggins had garnered a reputation as one of the best track pursuiters in the sport, and it was an accolade he did not disappoint, taking home three Olympic medals (Gold in the 4,000km pursuit, silver in the team sprint, and bronze with Rob Hayles in team Madison). The tally made him the first Briton since 1964 to win three medals at one Games and led to his being awarded an OBE shortly after his return to England in New Years Honours 2005. As the New Year began, Wiggins focused more on road cycling, initially continuing with Credit Agricole before moving to Cofidis in 2006 to ride in his first Tour de France.
For 2007 he continued to balance the demands of track and road cycling, returning to the Track Cycling World Championships the following year to win both the individual and team pursuit and again entering the Tour de France. Despite personal successes (he won the combativity award on stage six for his solo breakaway), the team was withdrawn following a team mate’s failed doping test and were led away from the tour by the police. Wiggins was an outspoken anti-doping advocate, further spurred by the race leader, Alexandre Vinokurov’s, subsequent positive test. He threw away his team kit and vowed to never race for the team again.
He found his new home with HTC-Highroad but as the Olympic training escalated his focus was mainly on track racing. Wiggins left the Track Cycling World Championships with gold in pursuit, team pursuit, and madison before heading to Beijing for the 2008 Olympics. He became the first rider to successfully defend a pursuit title after again clinching gold, and was a member of the pursuit team that broke the world record in heats. In the final the team won gold and again set a new world record.
In the madison, Wiggins paired with Mark Cavendish, were favorites to win, but ended in ninth place. The result created a feud when Cavendish became the only British cyclist not to have won a medal, a reality that Cavendish blamed on Wiggins not performing at his best. The pair didn’t speak for several months. In the same year Gary Wiggins was found dead in the street in Aberdeen, New South Wales after being assaulted. His attackers were never found.
In 2009 Wiggins decided to switch his focus to road cycling, taking with the decision his usual drive and succeeding in equaling the best ever performance by a British rider in the Tour de France by finishing fourth. At the end of the year he was again recognized for his achievements, being appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire.
His brilliant performance led to his entry into Team Sky in 2010 where he became a team leader for the first time. Under his leadership he led the team to win the team time trial on stage one of the Tour of Qatar. He also savored a personal victory, taking the opening time trial of the 2010 Giro d’Italia and the pink jersey (his first win at a Grand Tour). Despite high hopes his Tour de France performance was marred with disappointments, ending in 24th place.
The team changed their strategy the following year, with Wiggins opting out of Giro d’italia and focusing on shorter events and classics. Wiggins won both the traditional Tour de France warm-up, Criteruim du Dauphine, and the British Championships road race, but sadly crashed out of the Tour de France while in 6th place after sustaining a broken collarbone in a crash. He had been widely tipped to be on the podium in Paris and the accident was met with a great deal of dismay.
It was a year of accomplishment for the wider team as well, largely accredited to Wiggins’s leadership. Notably Geraint Thomas won the Bayern-Rundfahrt and Mark Cavendish experienced a historic road race win in the World Championships. The same season Wiggins experienced his first Grand Tour podium, finishing 3rd in the team’s first entrance to the Vuelta a Espana, behind his team mate Chris Froome who came second.
2012 has been marked by Wiggins’ triumphs. He won the Dauphine Libere, Paris-Nice, and Tour of Romandie races. But his greatest success in the imagination of the British public came in July when Wiggins made history, becoming the first British rider to win the Tour de France in the contest’s 109-year history. It was a moment of personal triumph and his humble and honoured reception made him a favorite with the nation and the international press. His mother was there to watch him declare that dreams really could come true, just as she had always insisted.
During the race, some riders suffered punctures due to tacks being on the road. Wiggins slowed the peloton to let them catch up, and the overall race placings hardly changed. This act of sportsmanship confirmed his place in the public’s heart as “Le Gentleman”.
He continued to support the other riders, serving as lead out for Mark Cavendish in the last two road stages (Cavendish won both, including the Champs Elysees for the fourth consecutive time). His team mate Chris Froome also came second.
As the Olympics get under way in London the country awaits the appearance of a new cult hero onto their screens and their roads. His first appearance was as part of Cavendish’s support team (a role which, despite his own impending race, he performed with every ounce of his strength and determination). Unfortuanely he was unsuccessful in helping to shepherd Cavendish to victory. Still, Wiggins continues to be an inspiring and dedicated leader for his team.
His personal sportsmanship legacy is one of triumph and integrity, a well-regarded figurehead for a sport on the rise in the public consciousness. He is also a vocal figure on issues of contemporary culture and the influential nature of individuals on the psyche of the country’s youth. In many ways Wiggins exemplifies much of what the Olympics stands for, an inspiring example of what hard work, integrity, and humility can achieve. He is a humble and dedicated individual and a true leader whose amazing career is far from complete.
Image of Bradley by Nicola - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=44576799