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An interview with Bradley Wiggins, December 22, 2008
Wiggins walks a different road
One of Garmin-Slipstream's big signings for the 2009 season is British track star Bradley Wiggins. The world and Olympic title holder is shifting his priorities to the road, and he's excited about the possibilities this will bring. Cyclingnews' Mark Zalewski sat down with him in Boulder, Colorado as he met his new teammates.
Bradley Wiggins, son of former European track champion Gary Wiggins, is yet another argument for success through genetics, and an example of younger generations besting their elders. As a three-time Olympic gold medalist and seven-time world champion, the junior Wiggins has been an integral part of the British track cycling machine that dominated the past two Olympics. While he will always consider the track his true home, he says it's time to move on to other goals within the sport.
Wiggins has always raced on the road while pursuing his track goals, but tarmac has always played second fiddle to the boards. This will no longer be the case in 2009 as he joins the Garmin-Slipstream squad with his velodrome dreams accomplished and aim firmly set on road achievements.
"All I have to win now is London 2012 – that is all that is left for me on the track," says Wiggins. "So now I want to do something on the road. All that is really missing is a yellow jersey, like from a prologue win at the Tour."
But it's not as if Wiggins is without success on the road already, having won the prologue of the Critérium du Dauphiné Libéré in 2007 whilst racing for Cofidis. It's not that he hasn't given the road a good nudge; only that it's been more of a means to an end with track ambitions in mind.
In 2008 Wiggins signed a one-year contract with Bob Stapleton's High Road squad under the premise that most of his attention would be focused on the Beijing Olympics in August. "They only signed me on a one-year contract with the view that I would do everything for the Olympics," explains Wiggins. "They were really good to me and I have a lot to thank them for – one of the best teams in the world."
But Wiggins decided not to stay with Columbia for 2009, though he said he enjoyed his time with the team. "I felt that perhaps the role I would have fallen into if I were to stay with them for the next few years would be to just lead Mark Cavendish out in all the sprints! As much as I would love to do that, I still have some ambitions for myself," he adds.
A gig at Garmin was inevitable, according to Wiggins. "I always felt like I would come here," he says. "I nearly came here last year. Jonathan and I spoke at the Tour in 2007 but he couldn't guarantee me at that stage that they were going to get invited to the Giro and other big races, because they just didn't know. So I went with the safer option with T-Mobile at the time."
"We kept speaking and Dave [Millar] has kept pushing me to come here; for a few years now. It seemed like the natural thing for me to come here. Across the board it really looks like something special – the athletes, everything. It's quite similar to High Road in terms of leading the way. So it seems a strange move in some ways, but it felt right to do."
Though the move from Columbia to Garmin may not represent a big difference in terms of team culture, the move from racing on French teams such as Cofidis and Credit Agricole was a paradigm shift for the better.
"It's so different to what I have been used to in the past," says Wiggins. "The guys here are such a good group, and I love the individuality of the American guys – the fact that they can be themselves. People make enough issues of my hair, it's nice to be around guys that have enough individualities of their own! On French teams everyone has to look the same – the same haircut, etc – and if you are different you are ostracised."
Indeed, the team building events at the Boulder camp such as paintball and a beer-drinking contest are a far cry from what Wiggins is used to. In fact, the man born in Gent, Belgium, somehow lost the drinking contest [as a collective groan emanates from British readers] and as such had to circle the building in nothing but his birthday suit. When asked about this event, Wiggins skirted the issue. But the next evening in front of the collected crowd at the launch event, he was put on the spot about the 'incident.'
"It was nothing," he told the crowd. "Because in England it's tradition!" He warmed up the crowd with a claim of, "I would love to see Bush do that when he gets kicked out of the White House!"
Wiggins believes that the difference in the culture of the team stems from the very top, with directeur sportif Jonathan Vaughters. "Even Jonathan, he is not your stereotypical stern-fisted director, he's a guy you can have a laugh or a chat with. It's a relaxed atmosphere but at the same time they get the job done – with people like Matt White, who have done it at the highest level."
Another difference between this outfit and 'old-school' teams is the detail in preparing areas such as nutrition, bike fit and technology. "I discovered it a bit at Columbia, but before that at Cofidis and Credit Agricole that kind of stuff was unheard of. It was a case of, 'Here's your TT bike, go out there and ride!' The attention to detail in so many areas on this team... it's what I'm used to with the British team on the track. Companies like Pearl IZumi with the speed suits, and across the board, everyone pushes all the right buttons," he explains.
"Another big reason for coming over here is the emphasis on the team time trial. It's something I have always wanted, coming from the team pursuit on the track. The Giro has the TTT to start and the Tour has it too, so to be part of that at the Tour with such a strong squad, it will be amazing to think one of us could be taking yellow from that."
We want Le Tour!
Like his new boss exclaimed at the team launch in November, winning is a priority for Wiggins. And not just any race, but the big one... Le Tour de France. As he already mentioned above, the Tour prologue is a major goal for him this season, something he tried for but narrowly missed in London.
"The peloton is getting slower and slower, and the chance to win a stage in something like the Tour is so realistic now – it's within hands' reach," says Wiggins. "With Schumacher gone it pushed Dave [Zabriskie] up to second in the TT behind Kirchen. So all of a sudden you think on a day I could maybe be as good as Dave, then you think I could win a stage in the Tour. That is my big goal, to win a stage.
"Then to ride on the front for the next week... and to even think of riding into Paris with Christian in yellow is such an amazing thing to be part of," he adds.
New to the Garmin, Wiggins has a unique perspective on the 2008 team and its reception within the peloton. "I think the team has gained the credibility and respect after what they did this year. As I said, we could be talking about an American from Garmin winning the Tour de France; it's not to be shirked at because we have a super-strong squad for the team time trial.
"For a team that had started from nothing at that level, to get to the Giro and the Tour was a massive achievement. Then to perform in those races on top of that was amazing."
Another reason for returning to the road with this particular team is his memory of the 2007 Tour. "Having left the Tour on such a sour note last year, with the Cofidis scandal, it seems like a good time to be coming back into road cycling," says Wiggins.
Of course the doping news has not subsided since 2007, but Wiggins believes he can see a new dawn, given the presence of teams such as Garmin-Slipstream and Columbia. "I'm sure there will still be cheaters, but the main thing is they are catching people," he begins. "It's showing the testing is working and it's increasingly difficult for people to get away with it.
"With the introduction of the whereabouts system, internal testing... it's slowly getting there. Culturally, it's not accepted anymore and that is the massive change. Teams like Garmin, High Road and CSC leading the way have changed the paradigm of the sport."
Surely an interview with Bradley Wiggins must include talk of the Olympics? Okay, fine. He won... a lot... again. But it was a different experience in 2008, and mostly for the better. As he told The Guardian newspaper, the period following the 2004 Athens Games was a rough time for him.
"It was much more business-like this time," he says of Beijing. "I didn't have as much emotional attachment... Four years ago I didn't know what I was going to do with the rest of my life if I didn't win. This time it was much more about going through the process of winning. The sport means a lot of different things to me now than it did four years ago. I have other things in my life that help me put it into perspective, and if I lose, I lose."
He need not have worried about losing, however. Two gold medals, a team pursuit world record, and becoming the first rider to repeat gold in the individual pursuit was testament to his maturity and meticulous preparation. "It was an amazing few days, though it did end in a shade of disappointment by not finishing the job with the Madison," says Wiggins. "But the program did not really allow for three endurance events over four days. I knew that going into it but looking back and reflecting on it, two gold medals is still amazing."
Wiggins' 'rough' 2009 schedule includes the Tour and the Giro; it's the first time in his career he'll do both. "I've never doubled up, but I think the Giro is a nice prep for the Tour this year," he says. "I'll start with Qatar and I'll go and help Maggie through the Classics. Then I'll have a break before the Giro and the Tour."
It's also clear that Wiggins is focused on the road for the foreseeable future. "I am here for two years now, so it allows me time to grow with the people around me," says the Brit. "David has some ideas for me, and I won't have the distraction of the track."
Wiggins' assures us that the track will never be too far from his mind, however. "I still do everything I can to win, because I need to win on the track," he says. "I will always go back. I will always drop in to the track and test – I won't be racing on it but I'll put a time down. It's something that is always there, a constant."