SAN DIEGO (CT) — Bradley Wiggins reaches for his iPhone, and scrolls through his photo library. He’s been challenged about his claim that he now weighs 12 kilograms (26 pounds) more than when he was a GC contender — it’s not evident in the t-shirt and jeans he’s wearing — so he pulls up an image of himself in team kit, riding alongside Mark Cavendish, at Big Bear Lake earlier in the week.
While he is by no means looks fat, Wiggins in Lycra… well, he has a rear end again. He’s got curves.
“People say that, ‘You don’t look any different,’ but the scales tell me that,” Wiggins said to two reporters during a brief interview after the opening press conference of the Amgen Tour of California, held at the San Diego Yacht Club.
He then pulls up an image of himself from the 2011 Vuelta a España, where he finished third overall, behind Juan Jose Cobo and former Sky teammate Chris Froome. His face and upper body are gaunt, his arms and legs shaped like pencils attached to a ribcage.
“I mean, it’s just the type of training I do, it’s completely different than what I’ve done before,” he said. “We’re in the gym three times a week. It’s just the track program. By nature, it’s all about raw power.”
In several ways, Wiggins is a different man than at his last California appearance, two years ago.
That version of Wiggins was a man without a team — a Tour de France champion fighting for a spot on a Sky Tour squad, the team he had led, but was in the process of transferring leadership to Froome.
That version of Wiggins was a man with something to prove. And prove he did, smashing the 20km time trial in Folsom — winning by 44 seconds ahead of Rohan Dennis — and holding his own in the mountains to take the overall title. It wouldn’t prove to be enough, however; he was not selected for Sky’s Tour team, and holds the dubious distinction of being a Tour champion who never returned to the sport’s biggest race.
Yes, Wiggins was lighter during his 2014 race through the Golden State, but he had only just emerged, mentally, from the life-changing events that enveloped his summer of 2012, when he became the first Briton to win the Tour de France, followed shortly by an Olympic gold medal, won on home soil.
Two years later, Wiggins is not only a man with a team, he’s a man with a team that bears his name. This time around, he brings his Team Wiggins development squad to California, not to race for the win, but to race for the experience.
And though Wiggins is heavier now, his conscience appears lighter, unburdened by the sacrifices, and responsibilities, that come with being a Grand Tour contender. He no longer faces the daily insinuations of performance enhancement that he dealt with during his 2012 run in the maillot jaune. He no longer fields questions about his contentious relationship with Froome.
Today, he faces questions about his final Olympic Games, coming up in August, and what his plans are after his racing career ends, whenever that may be.
One topic Wiggins isn’t keen on discussing, however, is the controversy surrounding former British Cycling director — and longtime Wiggins mentor — Shane Sutton, who resigned last month amid allegations of discrimination.
During the pre-race press conference, a question to Wiggins on the subject was deflected by the moderator, who insisted all questions stay related to the event. During a more exclusive interview, 30 minutes later, a representative from Wiggins’ management group, Simon Fuller’s XIX Entertainment, explained that Wiggins would not be addressing the topic.
Instead, Wiggins was eager to speak about the development team that bears his name, launched under the same Sky sponsorship that Wiggins spearheaded from the team’s inception, in 2010, through the 2015 Paris-Roubaix, his last race in the black-blue kit.
“Sky supports our team because I’ve got a long relationship with them through winning the Tour, and stuff for them, doing the Hour Record, they wanted to get behind that and support that and televise it and everything,” Wiggins said. “They loved the idea of the team. I think they liked the informal-ness of the team, and what it stands for, as opposed to their other baby, in Team Sky, which is performance elite, winning the best bike races in the world, marginal gains and everything. Whereas, we’re like, we don’t need to win races. We’re about getting out of the bus, engaging the public, and sitting on deck chairs.”
On his objectives with Team Wiggins
Managed by rider agent Andrew McQuaid, of Trinity Sports Management, and owned by Robert Dodds, president of XIX Entertainment and Wiggins’ manager, Team Wiggins launched in May 2015, at the Tour de Yorkshire.
The team’s goals, Wiggins said, are “growing all the time.”
“Initially, it was just a way of facilitating everything we needed for the track program by getting all the same guys together, not having any distractions, responses or anything, not getting pulled left and right so we could do everything together as a team,” he said. “Obviously, that’s evolved, because it was received so well in year one that we kind of took on more riders, more young riders, trying to do things differently than what everyone else is doing, really.
“To be honest, it would be very easy to just try and get a team of superstars together and then eventually say, “Well, we want to be at the Tour de France in five years’ time,” because that’s what everyone does. I don’t think that’s ever been my goal, really, to go back to the Tour de France. I want to avoid that as much as possible.
“A lot of teams have really short-term goals. It’s about getting corporate sponsorship, getting to the Tour de France and trying to do as best as you can in the Tour de France to secure more corporate sponsorship for the next three or four years. I don’t want that. I want longevity for this team. I want this team around for 20 years. I want people to go on to win the Tour de France, and say, ‘I started at Wiggins, and that was my step up the ladder,’ if you like.
“It’s not too much about the elite,” he continued. “We’re going for grassroots and stuff, but just trying to engage with people more and inspire people to change their lives, really, by being part of this team. You don’t have to be a future Tour de France winner or future Olympic champion to be on this team. We’ve got guys here that are journeymen, that have been around the circuit, have a love of cycling, behave a certain way that fits in with this team, that are just sort of a joy to be around, really. I think that’s important as well.”
It’s difficult to imagine a situation where a young rider wouldn’t be awestruck, riding side by side, in the same jersey, as a Tour de France champion and Olympic gold medalist. Wiggins said he does what he can to eliminate that dynamic, and just keep it about riding, and racing, together.
“I try not to have it like that, in some ways,” he said. “I try to let them just see that I’m me. A lot of it is just about being encouraged to be themselves, really. I spent so many years in teams where you’re very regimented and you had to say the right things, wear the right T-shirt to breakfast at all times. I always fought against those things, you know? I always fought for freedom.”
So far, the team’s biggest talent, Owain Doull, has committed to Sky for 2017, Wiggins said. Asked if Team Wiggins should then be viewed as a feeder team to Team Sky, he said that it wasn’t that simple.
“Not to Sky in particular — I think, just to any team, really. I wouldn’t say it’s the right path to Team Sky. I think it’s definitely to any team, that are kind of part of it,” he said. “It’s a natural line there, to Team Sky, in that we predominantly have British talent on our team, and they’re always interested in British talent. If someone’s good enough, and, if that rider wants to go elsewhere, and they’re not really keen on Team Sky, then, they’re free to go do that. Whatever the rider wants, I think that’s important.”
Asked about his role as road captain — and how a man who describes himself as “quite an introverted person” leads a team of young riders — Wiggins said he’s not exactly barking orders in the peloton.
“No, I don’t have it like that,” Wiggins said. “I want the guys to have their own goals, and, again, not to be designating different jobs on the road to do. I just want them to enjoy it and go out there and ride side-by-side with the Peter Sagans of this world and that, because that’s massive, being in the same races.
“Also, I’m not the kind of guy that will tell them, ‘Go out there, don’t care, don’t worry about Peter Sagan. You give him an elbow if you have to.’ I think that a lot of respect in cycling is gone now. I encourage them actually, “If that’s Peter Sagan, you let him in,” because there’s a hierarchy in the peloton. There should be a hierarchy in the peloton. You should work your way up to that. I think that’s disappeared now. I think those guys just enjoying riding side-by-side with those guys is a massive experience for them.”
For the Amgen Tour, Team Wiggins brought Doull, Mark Christian, Daniel Patten, Jake Kelly, Christopher Latham, Michael Thompson, and Andrew Tennant.
Patten rode in the daylong breakaway on Stage 1 in San Diego, while Wiggins said Doull would likely be the team’s rider to watch.
“Owain Doull’s kind of our… he’s already going into the pro ranks next year with Team Sky,” he said. “He’s the first success story of this team. Again, he’s in the heavy program with me at the moment on the track. I’m not too sure, I don’t think his road form will be up to where it was in the Tour of Britain last year, where he finished third.
“There’s a couple of other guys at the moment, Mark Christian and that, but, again, I don’t want to heap too much pressure on them because this is a massive step up for them. Just to be here, for them, is a big thing, to see what they’re capable of doing in some of the big days, like, into Lake Tahoe [stage 5] or Santa Rosa [stage 7].
“It’s nice to be back at the [Amgen Tour] more than anything. We’ll roll the sleeves and shorts up, work on the tan, and then go back to the UK.”
On his own ambitions at the Amgen Tour of California
Asked if it was strange, to be back at the race he won two years ago — yet with no ambition as a GC rider — Wiggins said it was not.
“I think a lot of people have accepted my role now, my position now, and I think are quite open now about where I’m at and what I’m doing,” he said. “The changes that happened, let’s see, the last race I did on the road was Dubai, and before that, was the Tour of Britain last year. Before that was [Tour de Yorkshire], and before that the Three Days of De Panne. It’s four races in a year now.”
As for the Folsom time trial, Wiggins was pragmatic about his chances.
“I don’t know,” Wiggins said during the press conference, when asked how he might perform in Folsom. “I haven’t done a time trial for 14 months. I just got the bike out of the garage to check the chainrings. We’ll see. I don’t know. Twelve kilos is a lot to be carrying around. It’s like a carrying a small baby on your back.” [To which Cavendish quipped “Twelve kilos? That’s a pretty big baby.”]
Asked if he was downplaying his chances — he is the reigning Olympic champion, Hour Record holder, and the 2014 world TT champion — Wiggins said he could not predict how he might perform.
He did know, however, which riders finished second and third behind him in Folsom in 2014 — Rohan Dennis, and Taylor Phinney, both now with BMC Racing. [This interview was held before Team Sky announced that world time-trial champion Vasil Kiryenka had been added to the team’s roster in California.]
“I just don’t know,” he said. “I haven’t done a time trial since I won in Three Days of De Panne last year, so I don’t know. I mean, I’m producing good numbers, and I have been training at Big Bear for two weeks, at altitude. I just don’t know where that will put me against the Taylor Phinneys of this world, and Rohan Dennis, and what have you. I’ll go out there and do the same time trial I did two years ago, whether it’s … I won by 44 seconds two years ago. But you only have to win by one second, so we’ll see.”
While many might expect Wiggins to be a sure thing for the stage victory, he is not among them— and he’s okay with that.
“I don’t know what to expect, whether I can still be competitive with these guys or whatever,” he said. “That takes the pressure and the expectation off as well.”
On his goal at the Rio Olympics
Wiggins’ Olympic record is the stuff of legends — and he hopes to further that in August.
His first Games were in Sydney, in 2000, where he took a bronze medal in the team pursuit, and came fourth in the Madison, riding with Rob Hayles. He took gold in the individual pursuit at the 2004 Olympics, in Athens, as well as silver in the team pursuit and bronze in the Madison, again with Hayles. In 2008, in Beijing, he took two golds, in the individual and team pursuit, but fell short in the Madison, riding with Cavendish — a massive letdown for the Manxman.
Wiggins earned a fourth gold medal in London, in 2012, in the time trial, bringing his total to four gold, one silver, and two bronze medals — one the most decorated British Olympic athletes of all time. An additional medal, of any color, is expected this summer.
At the world track championships in London in March, Wiggins and Cavendish took the rainbow jersey in the Madison, but Team GB only managed silver in the team pursuit. Afterward, Wiggins made a bold statement about this summer’s Olympic Games.
Pointing to teammate Ed Clancy’s incomplete fitness — 12 weeks before the world championships, Clancy was still recovering from back surgery, and had to be driven to the velodrome on his back — Wiggins told the BBC he believed Great Britain would win in Rio, saying, “I’ll put my house on it, I’ll say we’ll win in Rio now. I’m confident and I just think we will.”
Asked, two months later, if he stands by his bold prediction, Wiggins didn’t flinch.
“Yeah. I still think that, yeah, I have 100% faith and belief in what we’re doing, and where the other guys are at,” he said. “I’m still very confident, yeah, that we’ll do it. That’s the reason why I’m still cycling, is for that gold. That’s what we wanted to do. Silver wouldn’t be good enough. We live for gold medals at the Olympics.”
The Rio Games will be Wiggins’ fifth consecutive Olympic Games. It’s perhaps his biggest point of pride, he said, and he’s not going for anything but gold.
“I’ve been Olympic champion for 12 years now,” Wiggins said. “I think that’s my proudest achievement is that, really. More than anything — more than Tour de France, Dauphine, Paris-Nice, Paris-Roubaix, all that stuff. The Olympics is my first love, and will be my last love, if you like.”
And how does the Amgen Tour fit into his Olympic goals? Simple, he said — endurance.
“[Team pursuit] is 3.5 minutes. It’s just about raw power. It requires a lot more strength, a lot more upper body strength. It’s just arduous training,” he said. “The demands are 3.5 minutes now, really. Races like [the Amgen Tour] top up the endurance a little bit, really. They’re quite hard to get through, in terms of … they’re not like they used to be for me. Getting up those climbs and things is going to be quite difficult. That’s what we’re here to do. That’s what we’re here to seek, is that endurance and that workload that you couldn’t replicate every day in training.”
On his plans for life after racing
For a rider such as Wiggins, who has been open about his need for new goals to stay motivated, it’s difficult to imagine where his racing career might go after the Rio Games.
The Amgen Tour of California is his final road race before Rio. After the Olympics, the Tour of Britain is on his calendar, as well as six-day races in London and Gent, the Belgian city that is his birthplace. He’s insinuated that he might continue in 2017, though he’s not yet sure in what capacity, perhaps as a “player-manager” at Team Wiggins.
In addition to the development team, Wiggins has launched a children’s bike brand, also bearing his name, ranging from toddler’s bikes to bikes for teenagers. His own kids have started bike racing. It’s all part of a longer view, he said, to inspire young people to get on a bike — to race, or just to ride.
Asked about life after racing, Wiggins was effusive, yet noncommittal.
“Well, I’d still be on the bike,” he said. “I love cycling. I’m never going to stop cycling. Although I may stop competing, I’ll still be cycling every day. My son’s started racing now. My daughter’s started racing. I’m probably going to carry on being involved in cycling.
“I still don’t want to be a celebrity, even if, when we win gold this summer — if we win gold this summer… I don’t just want to go into TV and all that other stuff. I want to do stuff that’s meaningful, and has some maybe, an influence on society. I don’t know, stuff that means something, not just to be in the public eye for no reason. We’ve got too much of that in the UK at the moment, too many people in the public eye for being famous for being famous.
“We’ll see. I want to, again, continue that sort of inspirational thing, grassroots, helping kids. At the end of the day, it’s all about youth and kids. If we can use the vehicle of cycling for them to improve their lives, I think that’s a really good thing.”
“I’ve got a kid’s bike company as well now, which we just developed. I wanted to have a range of bikes, from balance bikes for toddlers through to 15-year-olds. Again, that’s another thing that people, in the years to come, people looking back and going, ‘Well, I started on a Wiggins bike.’ It’s things like that.
“At the end of the day, I think a lot of it is about not necessarily thinking about finding something to do, in post-career, in post-cycling career, as it were. I don’t know, really. I’m just at the point, I’m quite happy just doing nothing. Not ‘doing nothing,’ but if I have a day when it’s like this [sunny and warm], I’ll want to go on my bike. That’s never going to change.
“You don’t want to be filling your time up sitting at a desk doing stuff, really, when the weather’s like that. You could be out today, on your bike. I think cycling’s just been such a part of my life, and will remain that for the rest of it. That joy of just actually riding my bike has never gone away.”