Bradley is done…
The top level road racing career of arguably Britain’s greatest ever rider will be coming to an end as he rides an elongated lap of honour around Yorkshire this weekend.
“Wiggo” has been a divisive character but someone we can all look up to having risen from the ranks of track riding and time trials to become the first British winner of the Tour de France.
You can’t buy a legacy like that. And… like him or loathe him, his mark on the sport is massive.
Rather than regurgitate the entire life story starting in Ghent, I want to pick 5 moments post the watermarked date on my photo to profile the great man. I took this from my camera phone in the stands at Manchester Revolution in January 2006 at the start of a pursuit event.
At that point I was taking a picture of a British Olympian and no more… But what would happen next would change my view…
2007 Tom Simpson Anniversary
The hysteria over the Tour de France starting in London was starting to dissipate. The Grand Depart had been spectacular and my legs were just beginning to get their feeling back after 7 hours stood against a crush barrier on the Mall. I was waiting for David Millar to give Fabian Cancellara what for that day. He didn’t and then Mark Cavendish crashed on the next stage through Kent. Cursed!
Wiggins was the quiet man of the British peloton at that point. But the poignancy of his attack on the 40th anniversary of Tom Simpson’s death will live long in the memory.
There was a fleeting 10-15km that I thought he would make the finish. His Cofidis kit was sticking to him through the sweat of the effort. His long hair was flowing out of the back of his helmet. No marginal gains to be had there.
But the headwind and the combined effort of spending all but a couple of kilometres alone in the lead of a Tour stage was enough for him to be reeled in for a bunch sprint.
It was spirited and a nod to the massive sense of history that the man has gathered about our sport.
I loved every minute of the breakaway and it certainly helped grow the legend.
2009 Tour de France
With Cavendish mania in full effect I found myself standing at the side of a mountain with a block of chalk writing “Go Cav” on the road.
I followed up with “David Millar” as we were in Catalonia and he was a local resident there.
As an afterthought and due to his good start in the race I used the rest of my stick to write “Wiggo”.
It looked pretty feeble in comparison to the swirling letters of the names of my other British heroes. But I was happy that I had remembered Wiggins was riding and was able to show my support.
A couple of days after that he stayed with the leading riders into Andorra and a nation woke up to the sports of bike racing once, and hopefully, for all.
Wiggins held on to that position in the top group for virtually the whole of the rest of the race. He even had the cheek to attack the Schleck brothers, Contador and Armstrong. So much for this guy’s lack of panache…
The last weekend of the race with the summit finish on Mont Ventoux was incredible for both Wiggins and his fans alike.
He dug in so bravely and despite finally getting dropped by the only riders ahead of him on GC he had come fourth (subsequently third, but we won’t dwell on that) in the Tour de France.
This result equalled the previous best finisher from these isles. It was a breakthrough and the only question people had now was whether he could go on and win it…
2012 Tour de France
Wiggins had a couple of false starts with Team Sky. There was a big buy out of his contract to get him from Garmin/Slipstream and his first two tours with them had gone badly. One he was simply not good enough in the mountains and the other ended in an ambulance with a broken collar bone.
2012 had one of the flattest Tours of recent years with plenty of time trials. Wiggins got hold of the yellow jersey and defended it brilliantly with the aid of his team (ahem!).
When he arrived at the summit of the new climb Planche de la Belle Filles with only Chris Froome and Cadel Evans in tandem I dared myself to dream.
I had watched the Tour since 1987 and this was as close to a British winner as I had seen.
Every stage got more and more tense as the days ticked by until Paris.
There was the perceived act of treachery by Froome and that final mountain of the Tour when Nibali’s legs folded in on themselves and it was clear Bradley would be win.
I was still nervous for the penultimate days time trial. Punctures or a crash could still derail the Wiggins bid.
As a nation we would be fine and Chris Froome would swoop in and ensure we still won the Tour, but for some reason that didn’t feel like it would be the same.
At the end of that TT, Wiggins punched the air with joy. I sat in front of the TV eyes filling up and how much this win meant to everyone connected with cycling in this country.
The procession of the Champs Elysees was a brilliant afternoon with beers and laughter. The whole family got together to cheer out man home and as he crossed the line I remember leaping up and letting out a scream of relief. It was over and the yellow jersey was coming to the island from the mainland for the first time in history.
2012 Olympic TT
In the days after the Tour win we were treated to all of the 2012 Olympic wonder and excitement. We are not a nation comfortable with celebrating who we are and what we do well.
It was unchartered territory and the Wiggins/Froome/Cancellara duel around the packed Surrey lanes was another cracker.
The most used image of the soon to be Sir Bradley was the one of him sitting on the throne of time trial champion still in his Team GB skin suit.
2015 Tour of Flanders/Paris-Roubaix
My kids have to be cycling fans by default. The eldest knows who Sir Bradley is and her last ever glimpse of him as a pro rider was a quiet country lane as the Tour of Britain whizzed by.
She is three but picked out the great man riding along in the peloton towards Hemel Hempstead. I hope she has some recollection of that in years to come and tells people how she saw him in action.
My last sighting in the flesh was as the Tour of Flanders rolled past on the way out of Bruges. I had prepared myself for the moment, being a devotee of British Cycling I have mental preparation down to a tee. It’s the physical training that stops me being a good rider (!).
But it still kind of got to me…
I was in the doorway of a chocolate shop (very Belgian) and had initially spotted Peter Sagan. Then, there he was… smiling and enjoying the start of the race. It was barely 650 metres old but here was a man, riding towards the city of his birth at the end of his top level career.
He seemed relaxed, comfortable and at ease with himself. It was lovely to see and despite my feelings of disappointment that it was the last week of his Team Sky career I was pleased to see it.
The rest of the peloton and the team cars trundled by and then that was it. I was stood there and had taken it all in.
Should I have snapped a picture as in 2006?
The actual end in Roubaix was viewed by some as anticlimactic. I was out of my seat at the attack and how easily he rode clear. But the fact he couldn’t shake the anchors on his back wheel was a sign.
The last desperate attack in the final two or three kilometres was never going to be enough to get across to the leaders and it felt at the time a sad end.
However, I am over that now and looking forward to the hour record and next stage of a career that has been amazing to follow.
Thanks for the memories Sir Brad. Thanks.