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Tour of Britain - 2.3
Great Britain, September 1-5, 2004
An interview with Bradley Wiggins, September 3, 2004
Waiting for it all to sink in
By Shane Stokes
While he stressed beforehand that he would not be an overall contender due to his specific track preparations for Athens, this week's Tour of Britain is a victorious homecoming for Bradley Wiggins, whatever the result. The 24 year old won three medals at the Olympic games, taking gold in the individual pursuit, silver in the team pursuit and bronze in the Madison. Three different medals in one Games is a feat which was last achieved by a British athlete a full 40 years ago when Mary Rand did the treble, the gap between the two occurrences showing just how special - and rare - it is.
Wiggins' feat and the achievements of British cyclists in general in Athens is part of the reason why the Tour of Britain has attracted such good crowds to the race. Cycling in the UK is enjoying what is arguably the biggest media coverage in recent memory, due to the good performances in Athens. Hosting the Tour of Britain just after the Olympics is either inspired guesswork on the part of the race organisers or a real stroke of luck; either way, the crowds are there and cycling is getting some very valuable media coverage.
Wiggins gave a frank, intelligent interview just before he embarked on the Tour of Britain, talking about a variety of subjects. He revealed the effect those medals have had so far on his life and talked about his plans for the rest of this season and beyond. The 2003 world pursuit champion also disclosed how tough his build-up was for the Olympic Games was and how he became seriously demoralised with the bike in the early months of this year. Fortunately, things clicked after a short break from the sport and now, three Olympic medals to the better, he explains why he is willing to walk away from track racing in order to become a top road rider.
Q: Can you give us an idea of what you have been doing since the Games?
A: It has been pretty hectic. I have been in this whirlwind ever since I got off my bike in the Madison. That evening was consumed by a lot of TV and press and running around until three or four in the morning, and then after that I travelled back the next day. Since I got back I was off in Belgium to race at the weekend and then came back from there. The past few days have been very busy.
Q: Have you had time to really enjoy it? Have you had time to celebrate with your family?
A: No, I haven't even had five minutes alone with my partner Kath. That is hard, but at the same time this comes with it, this comes with winning and with getting medals. It is the bit you enjoy, the bit you look back on in years to come and say at least I did it. That time will come, you just have to profit from this moment as much as you can and try to soak as much in and enjoy it while it is there.
Q: You had a rude awakening on the weekend with a bit of a mechanical failure?
A: Yeah, my handlebars and forks snapped going at 40 miles per hour on my time trial bike. I managed to come to a halt before they fell off so I could have been sitting here with no teeth. I was very fortunate, I came away unscathed.
Q: In Britain the focus is on track, the rest of the world it is road racing and the Tour de France. Is there any way you can be world class in both?
A: I think there is a chance to do that. I think the guy I beat in Athens, Bradley McGee, has proved in the past few years that you can mix both. I don't think you can be at the level to win on the track without sacrificing the gold. For me to win had to take everything, and that meant sacrificing my road results this year. I had what a lot of people would view this year as quite a disappointing road season. I think after winning the world pursuit title last year, I think a lot of people were expecting me to come along this year and start producing good road form.
The reason I signed with Credit Agricole was that they could give me everything to win Olympic gold. That meant the right training programme, the freedom to train properly, the freedom to race. I had the full backing of the team in that.
One of the reasons I left FDJ was to get away from McGee and get on the opposite side of the fence. To create a rivalry, really. I think we were too close to each other, sharing rooms and that. This was the guy I was going to have to nearly hate to beat.
Q: So what are your future plans?
A: Well, from this point on the obvious task is for races like the Tour de France. I have to convert that pursuiting into prologue racing. I think that will be the path I follow now. At the same time, I want to be in Beijing in four years time winning another gold, whether that is pursuit or the time trial or the Madison.
It is going to be very important to plan ahead. I have already got a meeting arranged for this coming Saturday...I have got quite a close team working with me who know what they are talking about. We are going to discuss what I am realistically capable of in the next three years, really. That is already well in motion.
It is exciting, it is the best position for me to be in, really. Had I been sitting here with silver in the individual pursuit, silver in the team pursuit and nothing in the Madison, I would probably have contemplated retirement. I have lost a bit of love for the sport in the past year, because I have had quite a tough season in a lot of respects, really, with the pro cycling game and with other things.
So it is fantastic, really, this gold has given me a lot of self belief again. I can go out there now and race. If I train 100% and put in as much effort as I did for the Olympic gold, if I convert that into the road I don't see why I can't be the best in the world on the road for one or two days a year.
Q: Do you feel that you could be more competitive than just a prologue winner in the Tour de France?
A: I think that maybe in five or six years time...I am only 24 at the moment. I think the prologue is the most obvious path to take, converting this pursuiting form. 4 minutes 15 - people say that with times like that, I could theoretically win a Tour prologue. But in the future, obviously, racing for three weeks is something I would like to do and explore. At the moment I can't say that I won't be or will be a Tour rider, I think it is something that comes with experience, really. Maybe in four, five, six years time we will be sitting here talking about winning the Tour next year. I would never discount that for one minute.
Q: Winning the Tour?
A: Why not? I think a few years ago if you went under 4 minutes 20 for a pursuit people would have been stunned. I think when Boardman put 4 minutes 11 on the board in 1996, people never thought...I got within four seconds of that this year in the normal position. At the moment I am seeing new limits every year to what I can do. In five years time, if this progression line continues, who knows?
Q: Can we describe you as Boardman Mark II, with extra strings to your bow?
A: I think I am quite a different rider to Chris. Chris couldn't ride a Madison to save his life (laughs). I guess in the way I am starting to think, I am being influenced by Chris in his mental approach and his professional planning of things. That is certainly something that has assisted me in the past year. But as far as becoming Chris Boardman II, I think we are very different riders in that respect. And not to be too disrespectful of what Chris has achieved, I think I can achieve quite a lot more than that.
Q: You mentioned that this year was very tough on the road, and also about losing motivation. Was there any point when you were finding it tough that you started losing confidence in your ability to go on to achieve your big goals at the Olympics?
A: Yeah, it certainly happened at the start of this year, in the classics such as Paris-Roubaix and that. I had had a good classics campaign the year before, finishing one or two classics for the first time. I had a bit of illness at the start of year, struggling with the cold weather in this country training, and it put me back a bit. I got a little bit disillusioned with it come April time, I was finding it quite difficult. I was getting my head kicked in a bit in the racing and I was struggling to see evidence that things were improving. At that point in the season I just shut it down for five or ten days. I went to Edinburgh, got pissed every night and came back really fresh, ready to train again. From that point on I really saw changes and improvement. From that point on I started the process of really winning this gold medal. I had quite a few not very nice meetings with my personnel, Chris, Simon Jones, and it was a bit of a kick up the arse, really. We ironed out the faults and it worked out. We never looked back, really.
Q: You said that Credit Agricole allowed you to concentrate fully on the preparation for the Games. Was it difficult to do that, maybe to do things that were counterproductive for road racing, even if you knew there was a bigger picture? Was it hard to do that when getting it tough day to day in road races?
A: Yeah, you start the whole year thinking that the Olympics will be the main priority. But there are certain points when you need to see evidence that the form is there. When you get up in races like the Tour of Flanders and Paris Roubaix, they are such prestigious races that you can't help but want to race and get stuck in. So it does become very difficult at times but at the back of my mind, it was always about the Olympic Games. That never left me, really, throughout the year, even at certain points of the year when my biggest rival was having his best year to date. That was difficult.
Around the time of the start of the Tour de France, I knew I had won the gold, really. Before the Tour had started I had seen some evidence in trials we did that this thing is really going to happen, now. I saw significant improvements over the same point last year. There are certain testing procedures at the track, using the SRM machine. It measures people's physical ability with regards to power. I have done these tests since I was sixteen. I smashed the lab record by 30 watts, which was set before that by David Millar about a week before he won the world time trial championships last year. That gave me a massive confidence booster at the time. It was just about putting quality training on top of that, really. I had built this fantastic road base up from doing races like the Tour of Switzerland and the Four Days of Dunkirk, Paris Nice...even finishing Paris-Nice when I wasn't in great form. I really struggled in that and finished last overall, but I got through it and it laid the foundations for this success and where I am now.
Q: Given that success and the profile you now have in the UK, do you feel under pressure to perform this week?
A: I don't, really. I think the only pressure I am under this week is the pressure that comes from myself. I have ridden my bike once since the Madison last week. It has been crazy. You have plans at the start of the year, the plan was to continue this form in order to race well at the World Championships in five weeks time in Verona. That has totally gone out the window now, I am already booked up for the whole of September to do certain things. That is going to be the one thing I have to sacrifice, my training won't be up to it.
As for this week, I have no expectations of myself. I haven't raced on the road since June and there is quite a vast contrast between racing 4 k on the track and riding for up to six hours in the saddle. It may not sound...the obvious thing for people to think is that you are in good form, you have just won Olympic gold so surely you can ride well on the road. But unfortunately it doesn't work like that and I'll probably find that out on the climbs during the race! A lot of people by the roadside will be wondering what the fuss was about. No, I am motivated to give it everything. I may not be there on day one or day two but come the third and fourth and certainly by the time we get to Westminster you will be seeing a lot more of me.
That is the obvious thing to try to ride well in, the criterium is less than two miles from where I grew up so there will be a lot of support for me. I am just going to try to enjoy this week and soak it all up. I am still coming to terms with the fact that I am Olympic champion, and things like this really help to bring it home to me. I am just going to enjoy it all.
The race has been absent off the calendar now for quite a few years. The last time I rode it I was 19 and I rode around for most of the week in the back group with Chris Boardman and seeing how many plaudits he got at the side of the road. I hope it will be a similar thing for me this week.
Q: Is Verona off the agenda now?
A: I am just not going to be able to do myself justice there. I am going to La Manga in two weeks to do Superstars TV programme (laughs).
Q: And six days?
A: For the time being they are off the agenda too. I am going to give 100 percent to the road now so for the next two years the track is on hold. But I am totally happy with that, I have been world champion and now Olympic champion on the track and I am pretty pleased with that. For me the medal here is the height of track cycling and there is nothing left for me to aim for in track cycling. Maybe the world record but again, I think that is perhaps a little bit too far in the current position. The hour record is something we looked at but again the athlete's hour is far too big to do that. Likewise, Chris's 56 kilometres on the Superman position is out of reach. There was talk of going for Indurain's hour of 53 kilometres which was set in Bordeaux in 1994 - I think I am capable of 53.5 kilometres. That was an idea of just registering the third-best hour record. That would create quite a bit of publicity. They are just ideas at the moment but they may evolve in the next few years.
Q: You mentioned Superstars...is it a sort of balancing act now between cycling and the other end of things?
A: I think so, until Christmas, yeah. The commercial side of things is going to take over for now, but that was always the plan, really, to capitalise on it. Come the New Year, it is one hundred percent for the road and my goals next year, like the Tour de France. To do that I will have to put as much into it as I did for the Olympics
Q: You are big on statistics - has it sunk in yet that you have equalled the best record in forty years in any Olympic discipline by any British competitor.
A: I think that is part of it because I am such a pervert of the sport as well, and of sport in general. I think that is why it hasn't really sunk in that I am Olympic champion. I am so used to seeing other people doing it, being in awe of other people doing it and really wanting to know what that would feel like. I think when that happens to you it is very strange because you almost feel like you are not worthy to be in that club. You think maybe it was different this year, maybe they are not the same medals as they were in the past. It is a very, very strange feeling and it will take a long time to come to terms with. That is very strange because it is something I have lived for passionately for the last two years and something I have looked at for twelve years, so it is really, really strange.
Q: Given what has happened in British cycling over the past few years, how appropriate is it that the race start is in Manchester?
A: I think it is the ideal place to start. For me, any Tour of Britain would have to finish in London but if you were going to pick a town to start in, it would have to be Manchester. With the facility we have there now Manchester is really the heart of British cycling now, and where all this success was built. We have got a fantastic programme there, where all the funding goes, a tremendous group of people who have been working behind the scenes for the past six or seven years. This is the height it has reached at the moment...I think when the funding came in it was always going to be about Beijing but we have hit this height now with four years to go. As I said, Manchester is the heart of that. They went for that Olympic bid in 2000 - that is how we got this velodrome - it wasn't to be, but we held the Commonwealth Games here and Manchester put on a great show, so I think it is a fitting place to start.
Q: Is it fair to say that the track successes wouldn't have happened without the Manchester facility?
A: I think so. I think if we are going to be racing on world class facilities like the venue in Athens or the venue in Sydney before that, I think Britain needed that facility. If you want to be the best you have got to train on the best equipment, to train on the best tracks. To have it on your doorstep as well is important.
This thing started ten years ago when the velodrome was built. The amount of kids that got on the track because the velodrome was built was considerable and we are seeing the effects of that now. People like Ross Edgar and all these other young kids coming through are as a result of the track there.
I made the trip up from London at the time to race on what we called a 'steep-banked track'. We had no other steep banked tracks at the time. We had Herne Hill, a lot of tracks around the London area but once we got that facility in Manchester immediate improvements were seen. Every year there is just this fantastic progression and if that line continues, it is frightening to think where we will be as a sport come the London bid, if it is successful, in 2012.
Q: There is a community of cyclists in Manchester now - is that important as well?
A: I think so, yeah. Ninety percent of the British Cycling Team live in the Manchester area. It is not just about training on the track every day. You have got some of the best countryside in the world outside Manchester, to the north and the south, and it is that as well. You lay the foundation on the road for the majority of the year.
I live in Darbyshire, about 24 miles away from Manchester. For me it is fantastic - you have some of the best training roads in the world and then you can drive easily to the best track in the world. That is a facility which is unmatched. I don't think there is another pursuiter in the world who has got that choice. And it is not just having the track...the whole British Cycling Team are based around. Doctors are on hand, mechanics are on hand, physios are on hand...anything you need is available, really. And having that on your doorstep is a godsend for me and has allowed me to put as much into it as possible. Every little bit counts.
Q: Do you see yourself moving to Europe now?
A: I don't know. I tried that a few years ago and didn't like that. I like to be able to read the Daily Mirror in the morning! Things like that...It is as easy for me to get to Paris now as it is for a lot of the guys who live in Brittany to get there. It is a fifty minute flight, six flights a day with Air France and for me that is brilliant. The only thing I have to deal with is the time change by an hour, but so far it hasn't affected me.
Q: Bradley, you signed an autograph a few years ago saying ‘Paris-Roubaix winner 2007'. With all this success on the track, do you see yourself riding that race and winning it in five or six years time?
A: I think it was 1998. As I said earlier, part of the reason I got quite disillusioned this year related to that. The Classics are something I grew up watching on the telly. They are certainly something I would like to target in the future. I have been in the front group in the last two editions of Paris-Roubaix up till Arenberg Forest and have come crashing down horribly. It is such a lottery. It is a bit like the Madison on the track in that anything can happen. You could be in the form of your life and still not even finish the race.
I don't know, really. I might have more brains by 2008 and decide against it! (Laughs)