Sir Bradley Wiggins has hinted that the Ghent Six, which he won yesterday with fellow Madison world champion Mark Cavendish, could in fact be his last top-level contest, highlighting in a post-race press conference the rigours of keeping fit enough to race at the highest level.
Wiggins picked up a lap towards the end of the final race, the Madison, to ensure victory for himself and Cavendish to the delight of the many British fans who had crossed the Channel for the most prestigious six day meeting of all.
— Eurosport UK (@Eurosport_UK) November 20, 2016
Following an emotional speech from the podium at the Belfian city’s ‘t Kuipke velodrome, shown in the video above, the British pair gave a lengthy press conference, the full transcript of which has been published on Telegraph.co.uk.
As the Telegraph’s Tom Cary points out though, it was made clear by the race organisers that Wiggins would not be answering questions regarding the controversial Therapeutic Use Exemptions (TUEs) issued to him ahead of races including the 2012 Tour de France, when he became the first British rider to win the race.
One question everyone wanted to know the answer to was whether Wiggins has in face ridden his last race. Without giving an unequivocal response, the 36-year-old did say it was unlikely to return to the Ghent Six Day, with the reasons for his reply suggesting that we may have seen the last of him at the top level.
“I have to be realistic,” he said, “and to be as good as I've been this week I would need a full road season probably or a good training season. And I can't just think I'll get away with riding around Majorca.
“As much as my heart wants to my head would probably say no. I wouldn't like to come back next year and not win and not be as strong. So at some point you've got to stop and say 'that's it'. And I think for sure this will be my last Ghent Six Day … 18 years since my first and 12 years since my last win here. It's been a bloody good innings.”
Both he and Cavendish spoke of the history behind the ‘t Kuipke velodrome and the Ghent Six – something particularly poignant in Wiggins’ case since he was born in the city when his late father was racing the six-day circuit, and was taken to watch him there as an infant.
“I first came here as a little boy,” he explained. “I spoke to Maurice Burton today – if that name means anything to anyone – and he can remember sitting in the cabins holding me in his arms. And I always get emotional when I think about this place. Just what it means to me. I've been lucky enough to be here as a child, watching my Dad. I always think of him when I'm in here.”
Asked by the Guardian’s Will Fotheringham what he would do in retirement, Wiggins’ first reply, was a reference to the newspaper that broke the story raising questions about a package delivered to him at the 2011 Criterium du Dauphiné: “I’m going to become a journalist for the Daily Mail, Will. No I’m not. I’m not a c***.“
He went on: “What am I going to do? I’ve got a team that’s about inspiring young lads. You know, we’ve got some really good young guys, we’ve got a new French kid if anyone remembers Philippe Ermenault, his son, Correntin who I picked up for next year, has just won the European pursuit championship. He’s a huge talent. We’ve got some other fantastic riders so I really want to try and help those guys and develop the next champions, the guys who are going to be here in the next few years.”
But he seemed to rule out riding for his own team, saying: “There’s always that but it’s so hard now.
“I actually don’t enjoy the road racing anymore,” he added, saying he would “love” to be able to do six day racing all the time, but acknowledging that the season-long work required to ensure peak condition for that made it impossible.
“I always wanted to go out on top,” he reflected. “It’s been an incredible year. I’ve won a world title, the Olympic title, the Ghent Six with Cav. What else is there really?
“I could go next year to Dubai and do the Tour of California and all those races and regret it and I wouldn’t like to do that.
“My goal now is to just get in the gym and get absolutely shredded and be the fittest team manager in the peloton. Brad Pitt in Fight Club.”
Asked how he would like to be remembered, he said: “Ooh, what a question. You know what, I honestly don’t care anymore. I’ve given up caring. It’s funny.”
Referring to riding with Cavendish, he said: “People love watching us race together, and we’ve had some great times together and I said they’re going to be iconic.
“You think it’s not about being remembered – I don’t know really. Man of the people? Says what he thinks? Very un-politically correct? Bit anti-establishment in parts? I don’t know really.
“Some things never leave you from childhood and I’ll always remember that I used to hate being told what to do when I was at school … says the man who accepted a bloody knighthood …but I’m not contradicting myself in any part at all, but… whatever, f*** it.”
If this really is the final curtain on Wiggins’ career, he leaves it as one of the most successful cyclists Great Britain has ever produced – and uniquely in the sport, a rider who has won world and Olympic titles on the road and the track as well as the Tour de France, and who also holds the UCI Hour Record.
It’s clear though we won’t have heard the last from him – and with UK Anti-Doping investigating the use of those TUEs as well as that Dauphiné package, among other things, it’s likely that will be sooner rather than later.
Simon joined road.cc as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.