With Olympic and world championship medals already pocketed and still only 21-years-old, Bradley Wiggins is about to start his contract with French team La Française Des Jeux. He tells Gerry McManus of his delight to be riding in the professional peloton in 2002.
By Gerry McManus
In 1992, Londoner Bradley Wiggins was racing up and down a section of unopened dual carriageway in Hayes Middlesex with other 12 year-olds, but he was already showing some of the talent that would lead him to a bronze medal in the team pursuit for Great Britain at the Sydney Olympics.
It's true that he won his first ever race in a handicap event, but hard work and dedication has brought him success in the senior ranks.
His Australian father Gary had been a successful professional six-day rider in the seventies and eighties and when the family moved from Ghent in Belgium, he had already learned the Flemish language during his formative schooldays there.
His new home was Maida Vale, in the fashionable suburbs of northwest London. However, the famous Paddington cycle track was already closed before he started racing.
"I had a bike and I knew my father had raced, so I thought I would have a go," he remembers. "I entered the 'Challenge '92' event at Hayes where I did the time trial and another three races that year. The following year I rode the track at Herne Hill and the circuits at Crystal Palace and Eastway in London and progressed from there really."
He always did well in his age group but in those early days, some of his contemporaries can remember the hammering he sometimes took in races out of his category.
In the winter of 1993 and in 1994, he did some serious training with the West London based Archer Road Club, spurred on by his friend and mentor, veteran Stan Knight. He then gained some domestic sponsorship, first joining Condor's Olympia Sport and then Team Brite. "Then I won the junior world's in 1998 (3,000m individual pursuit) and I have been with the BCF world class performance plan since then, apart from the Linda McCartney team saga."
The collapse of the Linda McCartney team has been well documented but still only twenty at the time, he can afford to be philosophical about the experience. "I was fortunate not to have lost too much," he said "a lot of guys like Max Sciandri and Ciarán Power lost more than I did."
Even though he is embarking on a career on the road, the track is his first love. "Definitely," he said. "Yeah, since I started riding on the track and because of my father, it was really the way to go." Bradley remembers Chris Boardman winning an Olympic medal in 1992. "I remember how inspirational it was at the time and eight years later being at the Olympic games and winning a medal still hasn't sunk in. When it happens to you, you don't see it in the same light."
Being part of the BCF squad has meant that he has ridden few domestic road events, participating in only two of the Premier Calendar races. Bradley said: "The mainly track-based programme meant that I only rode in tough European races and this was a chance for me to prove myself to a professional team."
Success on the road did come in 2001, with wins in the 2.6 UCI ranked Fleche Du Sud in Luxembourg and Cinturon De Mallorca. It was racing in France during the Circuit Des Mines that he caught the attention of the Madiot brothers in the FDJ team.
Despite being a full time bikie since the age of 16, Bradley's modest, level headed attitude shows maturity beyond his youth. However, he loves the London scene and when his time-table permits it, he joins his friends at his favourite pub called The Flask in Hampstead.
When in training mode, his programme often sees him on the bike for 32 or 33 hours each week, averaging 20-22 mph around the Chiltern Hills in Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire. He explains: "You do what we call tempo riding for about seven or seven and a half hours and we can do up to 800 miles per week in the Majorca training camp."
He will be training from his home until December when he joins his teammates for the first time in the South of France. "There's a four or five day training camp and there will be a few rides. It's more of a get-together to collect kit and make the team presentation. A few may be missing like McGee who may not be back from Australia."
Although FDJ are currently a UCI second division team, many of the team are instantly recognisable to followers of cycle racing. Jacky Durand, sprinter Jean-Patrick Nazon, Jimmy Casper and Frederic Guesdon have all provided exposure for the company which runs the National Lottery in France.
Bradley's contract runs for two years and as a young neo-pro he will be learning the ropes all over again. He said: "I have asked to ride in the spring classics next year and there maybe the possibility of riding in 'The Tour'. It's quite a young team and I hope that it offers me a better chance of riding in the bigger races."
The inclusion of a team time-trial in the Tour De France must surely make him a candidate for team selection following his silver medal for the team pursuit in this year's world track championships. Then at the age of 22, it is unlikely that he will make it to the Paris finish but the experience will be useful to his development. It would be particularly exciting to see him go head-to-head with Britain's David Millar in the prologue.
The UK will be watching the likely Londoner's progress with interest as he was voted 'Cyclist of the Year' by Cycling Weekly magazine readers in 2000. Whatever the results, he will certainly be a great ambassador for British Cycling.
Related story: Brad Wiggins profile
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