Sir Bradley Wiggins believes his victory in last week’s Amgen Tour of California can help restore cycling’s credibility in the eyes of the American public in the post-Lance era.
The Team Sky rider, who in 2012 became the first British winner of the Tour de France, also says that achievement now sits more easily on his shoulders and he is now enjoying his role as one of the “elder statesmen of the peloton.”
Speaking to The Telegraph’s Tom Cary, Wiggins, currently staying in Beverly Hills with his wife and children, said his win in California had been the fruit of months of hard work.
“This project, the amount of time I had given over to it… It’s only five months out of your life but it felt longer.
“Just little things like the way I spent my 34th birthday at the end of April. I did 7½ hours on the bike that day in Majorca. I had no breakfast, and didn’t eat anything on the bike all day because I was on a bit of a severe weight-loss thing post-Paris-Roubaix. I was away training, sleeping in a [oxygen] tent in Majorca on my son’s birthday.
“But it’s all worthwhile when you do something like this, the satisfaction that the hard work has paid off. And then you can sit in the most idyllic spot in Beverly Hills and have a gin and tonic and soak it all up.”
Wiggins has said that he thinks people in the US were “robbed” by Armstrong’s doping, and that he feels that as “one of only a handful of clean Tour winners,” he has a role to play to rebuild trust in the sport there.
Asked whether he still felt that way, he said: “Definitely. There’s kind of no one here.
“Well, they’ve got these incredible young riders, future Tour winners in guys like Tejay van Garderen and Joe Dombrowksi, super talented guys like Taylor Phinney, but they are relatively unknown to the wider public.
“You mention cycling to anyone here and the first thing they think of is Lance Armstrong.
“So there is a gap and if I can leave a bit of a mark post-cycling in terms of helping to instil the faith a little bit more – because there are not many of us, Tour winners with no history whatsoever, no mumblings, no rumblings. I mean you get all this garbage on Twitter but actual factual… there is none of that with me and never has been because of the way I have conducted my whole career.”
Wiggins said that he had now settled into his status as a past winner of cycling’s biggest race. “I’m much more proud now to have won the Tour de France than I was maybe 15 months ago,” he said. “And I think it’s kind of inevitable that I will fall into that position, as one of the elder statesmen of the peloton now.
“It’s about respecting the sport. I’m trying to do that with the things I target, whether it’s Paris-Roubaix or this race. I’m quite comfortable with all of that now. The way you conduct yourself and the things that you say during the presentation each day, to the public. It was quite a new role for me here but I really enjoyed it to be honest.”
He added that he had been pleasantly surprised by the fans in California, and the support they had shown Team Sky. “I probably expected the worst, really, in the post-Armstrong era, coming here as a Tour winner.
“But from the moment I got here, the reception has been incredible. The popularity of cycling here is massive. And the popularity of the team is probably better than it is in Europe. That surprised a lot of us.
“There was no negativity. There were no negative comments during the race. It was almost overwhelming the reception that we had, and for myself as an ex-Tour winner. It was just really refreshing.”
Wiggins will remain in California until Thursday, when he heads to Mallorca for a training block that he hopes will result in selection for Team Sky’s line-up at the Tour de France.
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.