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Three years after he won the Tour de France, Bradley Wiggins has said that he will get greater satisfaction from a victory in Paris-Roubaix were he to hit the line first in the famous velodrome on Sunday week.
Speaking to the press in advance of this Sunday’s Tour of Flanders, the Team Sky rider made clear just how importantly he rates the idea of grabbing a win in the Hell of the North.
“It would be bigger in my eyes at this moment,” he said, when asked to compare the two races. “That is not to say the Tour wasn’t huge – it was. But it would be probably be more enjoyable [to take Roubaix], because it is one day, it is over in six hours.
“I don’t recall ever being at a Roubaix where there is a big doping story and it has overshadowed the race slightly. It tends to be about the racing and there has been a great resurgence in the last few years of people becoming hooked on the history of this race.”
Wiggins is getting close to the end of his career, with the rider set to turn 35 on the 28th of this month and due to stand down from his current role in Team Sky after Roubaix.
He will transfer across to the self-titled new Wiggins continental team, using that as a platform for what he hopes will be another gold medal or two in the 2016 Olympic Games. He will then finally hang up his wheels. However although moving from Sky won’t signify the end, it will definitely mark the start of the final chapter in his career and the end of his time riding the very top events in the sport.
Wiggins was feeling nostalgic during the long conference, talking a lot about his beginnings in the sport and how he saw some of the former top professionals. He gave the impression that the same sort of nostalgia is a big part of why he rates Paris-Roubaix and the Tour of Flanders so highly.
“People like Rapha have helped that [nostalgia] in doing different t-shirts or whatever. These mugs with [Eddy] Merckx on them, [Freddy] Maertens, all the people who have won it before and been up there in the past. And things like Sunday in Hell being reprinted, the DVD and resold. And Eroica and old bikes and woollen jerseys.
“That is with all these races. People have started to embrace the history of both it and the people that have gone before. I think that is brilliant for these races. All the sort of people that fall in love with cycling in recent years have decided to come to these races.
“There is a guy who does all my tattoos – he is mad keen on cycling. He is here, he is doing the sportif this weekend. They go to a bar next to the Flanders museum where Freddy Maertens is. They got on it from the start of the day. They all have a photo with Freddy Maertens like it is going to Madame Tussauds.
“You see these great iconic people…Merckx will be around, and there is guy who rides down the finishing straight on the bike path dressed as Merckx in his old kit and with a leather hat on him.
“It is all like a celebration of this race. You never get that at the Tour de France. You are not going to get people coming with US Postal jerseys on celebrating in years to come [said with a hint of humour]. It is great that we celebrate the history of this race.
“It was on TV the other day, Wednesday, the 1986 Tour of Flanders in the rain. You see Kelly there, LeMond, Hennie Kuiper and all that. It is brilliant.”
“Just hating being the winner of the Tour de France”
Wiggins won the Tour in July 2012, becoming the first-ever British winner to do so. It was a life-changing event but, looking back, he sees it in a negative light. He is sore at being asked questions about Lance Armstrong and about doping and, one senses, possibly also frustrated that Chris Froome replaced him as the team’s Tour de France leader and he never returned to the race again.
He said that he has mixed feelings about that period in time.
“It is easy to reflect on now, three or four years on now. I have two really fond memories…winning the time trial in Chartres and leading Cav out on the Champs Elysees,” he said.
“I still look back and think ‘how did I win the Tour, going day to day under that pressure?’
“And then that period after that just hating being the winner of the Tour de France, hating cycling, hating the media for asking me questions about Lance Armstrong. Hating Lance Armstrong for giving Oprah that interview. And being the current winner of the Tour in that period, having to answer all the questions.
“Just not enjoying it and just being so unhappy with it all. And then obviously the Giro, and how miserable that was [he was unable to realise his goal of winning the 2013 Giro, withdrawing due to illness and injury], and then not going to the Tour that year.”
However, although he never started the race after 2012, he says that in retrospect that was a blessing of sorts. He saw Froome win the race and then face scrutiny, and saw him also have to shoulder the pressure of trying to defend his title.
“Once that mantle had gone, that monkey off my back and someone else took it on, then it was quite nice. It was like, ‘Chris is now going to try to win the Tour for the next few years and I will try to do something else.’ I then came here [to Flanders and Roubaix] last year.
“Then other little things like winning California. No-one ever talks to me about the Tour any more, which is really nice, because I had three or four years of it. I think that a lot of enjoyment has come since I have lost that monkey off my back which was the Tour de France. It has just been nice to enjoy it, really.”
Wiggins said that as the pressure faded, his thoughts turned more to the past and the reasons why he took up the sport and developed such an attraction for it.
“I idolised some of my heroes as a kid who rode these races, despite all the things that may have come out in the last few years and bloody people honesty groups and what have you, CIRC reports,” he said, something which likely won’t endear him to those who feel he should himself have been outspoken after taking the Tour.
“Just the pure passion, regardless of what everyone was doing or who wasn’t doing – the love of the sport at that time. And I wouldn’t be here today without that because I loved it as much as the 13 year old who also lived across the flats from me who was mad about Arsenal or mad about Tottenham Hotspur and idolised the footballers at that time.
“For me it was Johan Museuuw, Franco Ballerini and Miguel Indurain. It is easy to be quite nostalgic twenty years on now, but I was talking this morning about when Museuuw won this race in 1995 and being 15 and how much inspiration I got from that. [There is] a lot of love coming out of me for the sport…
“But like I say, I have kind of lost track of that bit. I got caught up in the whole melee of winning the Tour and that, trying to play it cool in interviews like you don’t care and all of this. But actually now, I look back and I accept it now. I go yeah, I love the sport and I always will. I love everything about it.”
Wiggins said his newfound enjoyment of cycling has led him to ramp up his collection of bikes.
“That is another thing…I have stopped buying guitars now, I buy old people’s bikes,” he said. “I want to capture that moment and always have it for the rest of my life, always looking back at it and remembering it.”
“I see myself going up the Kwaremont the last time, doing damage, peeling off, watching Geraint attack”
In terms of memories, winning Paris-Roubaix – if it were to happen – would be something that would rank right up there. He makes clear that he is chasing that rather than victory in the Tour of Flanders, and is happy to ride for his team-mate Geraint Thomas in the latter.
The understanding is that Thomas will then return the favour one week later in Roubaix.
That syncs well with what Thomas said in his own pre-race conference interview; he stated that Flanders was the race he would most like to win and would also be most suited for.
He also acknowledged that Wiggins was completely committed to the second of the two Classics and that when he sets his mind to something, he often achieves it.
As mentioned above, Wiggins said during the interview that helping Cavendish win on the Champs Elysees in 2012 was a career highlight for him. So too his help in setting Cavendish up for his 2011 world championships win.
He said he’d get a similar buzz if he could help Thomas take Flanders.
“I have an image of how that is going to look. I see myself going up the Kwaremont the last time, doing damage, peeling off and watching Geraint attack,” he explained. “That is an ideal scenario. Then him soloing to the finish. But obviously life is not like that and I am sure it will be a lot messier than that.
“But if Geraint won on Sunday, I don’t think we would be at Roubaix next week as we would’ve got them three bottles already [points to three massive bottles of Kwaremont beer standing on a nearby bar counter] and we would probably open them all up on Sunday night.
“So we might have a B team coming for Roubaix,” he added, to laughter from those interviewing him.
“We have never had four British riders that could potentially be on the podium at Roubaix, for a start. There is Geraint, myself, Luke, Ian. Two different British riders in the last couple of weeks winning two of the biggest races in this period so far.
“Everyone was going on about the Tour de France in the last few years and having a British world champion, and the Classics get overlooked a little bit. Now we have got these guys in the next five years who potentially could be the guys.”
He said there is a real sense of anticipation, of possibility.
“I don’t remember this much media attention last year. I turned up today and I think we have got 20-odd staff members here this year. Every hanger on and his dog is here. The bus driver has his cat here. It shows how many people are interested in it. That is because we have got somebody who can win the race. And obviously with the absence of Tom [Boonen], Fabian [Cancellara]…everyone is talking about Geraint Thomas and it is brilliant for cycling.
“He is British when we want him to be British, when he is winning these races, he is Welsh when he is doing something else. It is funny how we claim him. It is brilliant, it really is.
“Just to be part of that is really nice.”
Listen to Wiggins’ full press conference in the audio link above.