When I used to race track at Herne Hill many years ago, there was a very quick, very skinny, ginger kid who used to show up now and then and kick everyone’s backsides. I’m not sure anyone at this then rather dilapidated south London velodrome foresaw this boy going on to become Britain’s greatest Olympian.
A few years later, I was working as masseur with my club at the National Track Championships in Manchester. Somebody gave me a fiver to give the same kid’s legs a good rub. Finding any muscles to manipulate was a struggle, those lanky pins of his almost dangling off the end of my massage table. He won practically every junior title going that year. A future Tour de France winner? Don’t be daft. As Wiggins himself says: “Kids from Kilburn aren’t supposed to win the Tour de France.”
Again, the Garmin winter training camp in Girona, 2009. Those long shanks of Wiggins are up on the table in front of me as he says he’ll be aiming for the GC at that year’s Tour de France. And again, I dismissed the notion as fanciful nonsense and didn’t even include it in my piece for the magazine. Sure, he’d be good for a time-trial win or two, but the overall? Forget it.
He finished fourth – or third after Lance Armstrong’s disqualification is taken into account. I’m no Nostradamus, clearly.
Bradley Wiggins – Sir Brad, Wiggo, take your pick – is one of the most bloody-minded individuals in sport. Set him a target and he will go all-in to ensure success. As his wife, Cath, told me in the most open and enjoyable interview I have ever done: “I have never known anybody be so blinkered and determined. He makes himself sick [in training] and falls over. He’s not normal. He doesn’t see any of the chaos around him that it causes.”
That blinkered determination led to Wiggins becoming Britain’s most decorated Olympian, with eight medals including five gold. At London, 2012, he went from ringing a massive bell in the memorable opening ceremony to taking gold in the time-trial, followed by pratting around and posing in a pseudo throne outside Hampton Court Palace. Both moments gave us a snapshot of a country justifiably feeling great about itself, if only for a moment.
We are good at pratting around. We can put on a darn good show. And, now and then, we are quite good at sport too.
That same blinkered determination led to the “kid from Kilburn” becoming Britain’s first Tour de France winner, just days before taking Olympic gold in London. Wiggins opened the floodgates: five of the seven Tour winners since then race on GB racing licences – a remarkable turnaround.
And that same bloody-minded determination, alongside an encyclopaedic knowledge and love of the history of the sport, saw Wiggins take on the toughest, most excruciating test in cycling in 2015: the Hour Record. He smashed it, of course, setting a distance that would take four years and Victor Campenaerts to better it.
Wiggins launched a development team in 2014. There was nothing in it for him. It would have been easier to step back from the sport, rest on his considerable laurels and put those long legs up for a while. But he’s not one for taking the easy route. He puts his money where his mouth is and puts back into the sport that gave so much to him.
All of these accomplishments should be sufficient evidence to put Wiggins in the Hall of Fame. If there are any flaws in this submission, it would be around 2013, when the wheels came off the Tour winner’s world somewhat. Injury, illness, becoming front page tabloid news fodder – it all combined to produce a forgettable year.
But – and this is the mark of a true champion – Wiggins bounced back. He’d never ride the Tour again, but set his sights on World Championships time-trial gold, the Hour Record and one more Olympic triumph. He took them all.
Then, of course, there was the whole jiffy bag conundrum. We may never know the truth behind what was in that package. A 14-month investigation into its contents produced no concrete evidence and Wiggins has always strongly denied any wrongdoing. We have to take that at face value unless proven otherwise.
But right now, Wiggins has been entertaining us all with his Eurosport appearances at the Tour and Vuelta. Insightful, entertaining, downright hilarious on occasions – there’s rarely a dull moment with Brad.
We look forward to welcoming him to the Hall of Fame, blazing on stage at the Rouleur Classic on a Vespa, peace signs all round. A fitting entrance for a British living legend.
Bradley Wiggins will be appearing on stage at the Rouleur Classic 2019 in conversation with Sean Yates
Over the coming months the Rouleur team will be making the case for each of the 18 Cycling Hall of Fame nominees. Vote for Liggett and Sherwen – or any of the other nominees – below.
Read more from our Cycling Hall of Fame 2019, “The case for…” series: