Channel 4 News profiles Bradley Wiggins, the man who looks set to become the first Englishman to win the legendary Tour de France cycle race.
In the 99 years that cyclists have been testing their mettle against France’s roads and mountains, an Englishman has never been able to conquer the world’s greatest cycle race.
Belgian-born, London-raised Bradley Wiggins is in a position to do just that and nothing bar an act of God or the efforts of French wildlife (there were traffic reports of a wild boar on the loose around the tour route) look likely to stop him.
As a sport, cycling has not taken hold in popular culture in the UK where footballers and cricketers reign supreme. The excitement around an unassuming 32-year old father of two with distinctive facial hair looks set to change that however.
Nick Bull, a journalist on the magazine Cycling Weekly told Channel 4 News Wiggins is an intriguing personality: “He’s quite an interesting character. He doesn’t beat around the bush and he tends to say what he thinks, for example his outburst in the early stages of the tour when he was asked about doping.”
At a press conference in the early stages of the race, Wiggins shocked many people with an angry expletive-strewn outburst when he hit out at those who suggested that riders need to take drugs to win the Tour de France for which he later apologised, putting his comments down to the passion he feels for the sport.
Nick Bull says he can understand Wiggins’ anger: “He’s got a good reputation and he’s always been critical of doping. The French have given him the nickname ‘Le Gentleman Wiggins’ and I think he’s going to come out of this race very well.”
He demonstrated this gentlemanliness during an incident in the tour when tacks were thrown in the cyclists’ path. He waited while rival rider and defending champion Cadel Evans fixed a resulting puncture. In the Tour de France this behaviour is expected but not always observed by riders.
Following his comments on doping, Wiggins wrote a personal account of his reasons behind the outburst for the Guardian newspaper, something which is perhaps unprecedented for someone who was leading the tour at the time.
The son of Australian professional cyclist, Gary Wiggins, Bradley spent much of his early life estranged from his father and was brought up by his mother Linda and stepfather Brendon in north London.
He’s more outgoing than you would expect and he’s a very good mimic. Former rider Michael Hutchinson
His cycling talent was obvious from an early age and he quickly began to impress on the international stage, winning a bronze medal at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. He later surpassed that achievement with gold, silver and bronze medals at the Athens Olympics, being awarded an OBE the following year.
He would later beat even that by scooping two golds in Beijing to equal Sir Steve Redgrave’s record of six Olympic medals.
But his focus switched from track cycling to the more gruelling discipline of road racing in which he has been able to use his talent for sprinting. He currently rides with the three-year old Team Sky which was set up specifically to bring the Tour de France crown to Britain.
Although not a thoroughbred mountain cyclist, Wiggins is good enough to stay with those who are and then to excel at time trials and sprints. This combination has proved deadly for his rivals and during this Tour de France, Wiggins has finally been able to put these talents to good use.
Richard Moore, sports journalist, former cyclist and author of a book on Team Sky’s pursuit of cycling’s greatest prize told Channel 4 News what he thinks pushes Wiggins to win: “I suspect there are all sorts of things driving him. Like lots of athletes the fear of failure is a big driver.
“He’s just motivated to get the most out of his talent. I think when he realised he was a tour contender he wanted to make the most out of that.”
Moore thinks Wiggins is not a natural occupant of the limelight and being in front is not something someone like Wiggins takes to easily: “He’s not a natural leader of people, he’s quite shy and a little bit awkward when he’s in the spotlight. Mark Cavendish finds it easier to be the centre of attention and he’s a lot more comfortable in the role of leader.
“Bradley does have charisma – he’s intelligent and articulate and bright but he’s not able to stand up in a room and tell people what he wants from them.”
This contrasts with the picture painted by former cyclist and now sports journalist Michael Hutchinson who knew Wiggins on the cycling circuit: “Bradley’s a Francophile but a very English cyclist, but he can be quite outgoing, he’s more outgoing than you would expect and he’s a very good mimic.”
But as his growing army of fans counts down the kilometres until Sunday’s Champs Elysee grand finale, Bradley Wiggins’ job carrying Britain’s cycling golden hopes is not over. With a once-in-a-lifetime chance to win Olympic gold on his home turf, a win in the Tour de France will be merely a curtain-raiser to the main event at London 2012.