Odd one, Bradley Wiggins; full of contradictions and mental ticks, a bastion of self-knowledge and yet simultaneously vulnerable to criticism and open to doubt.
His announcement this week that 2014 will be his last on the road – and with it the acceptance that he will never win the Tour de France again – fit perfectly into ‘Wigginism’, in that this decision makes sound sense and yet, at the same time, it’s veering towards the preposterous.
How can the man who sacrificed so much, who talked of winning and winning, who became in a few short months the most accomplished stage multi-day racer in the world, just give it all up without a fight?
“I’m going to continue to the next Olympics and try for a fifth gold on the track. That’s the plan,” Wiggins said in an interview with The Times this week.
Wiggins first found Olympic glory at the Athens Olympics where he won three golds, but the victories didn’t quite bring with it the kind of financial reward he imagined they would, and he began a routing of drinking daily at the pub and at home.
“Apparently it’s a well-known phenomenon, but Olympic gold medallists usually only lose the plot for a month or so,” he wrote in his biography.
“My bender after winning three medals, including my first gold, in Athens in August 2004 lasted a good eight or nine months and I wasn’t quite right for at least a year.
“I wasn’t just drinking for England during this period, I wasn’t quite at the races mentally either. For a while my life threatened to spiral out of control.”
He talks in some detail about just how routine the routine became.
“11am on the dot I would be outside the front door of my local, waiting impatiently for the landlord to open up. I wouldn’t move for the next seven hours as I steadily sipped my way through 12 or 13 pints. I would fit in the odd game of pool or darts, read the newspapers, treat myself to a spot of lunch, make a few calls, watch the sport on the TV – it was everything you dream of doing when you are putting in long hours of training.”
Everything we dream of doing perhaps, but when it is a daily occurrence for months on end it becomes a little more dangerous than that, more nightmare than dream.
He pulled it all back together quite brilliantly though, going on to more track success and then providing England with a year that no sports fan will ever forget, with victories throughout the year, including, of course, the 2012 Tour, the first ever for a Briton, and the Olympic ITT title.
That magnificent season of course was not without controversy, most of it concerning his teammate Chris Froome.
Interestingly, Froome features heavily in Wiggins’ decision to move from the road. Why? Froome, Wiggins accepts, is just better than him.
“”I don’t mind admitting that Chris is probably a better Grand Tour rider than me,” said Wiggins.
“He is a much better climber, he can time-trial well. He has age on his side, he has no kids. That’s fine.”
“If Chris wants to, he could potentially win five Tours now. So if I want to win another Tour, I’d probably have to leave the team.” Would he leave? “No,” he said. “I love this team. This is my home. I’m not going to go, ‘I want to be the leader still, so I’m off.”
So what is really going on here? Was the collapse at the Giro truly due to an injury, or due to the fact that Wiggins had mentally caved in in his tussle with Froome?
He was left out of the 2013 Tour ostensibly due to an injury, but was it more than that?
Personally, I felt that had he been included, his presence would have provided Sky with their biggest obstacle to victory, and their rivals their strongest card in hand.
He could have derailed the whole Tour campaign for Chris Froome with one petulant gesture or move.
Wiggins has admitted to being ‘affected’ by the row with Froome that started just as the Giro began, when his comments regarding him riding the Tour as a favorite came out, and spoke of how his ego had been informing his decisions.
Speaking of that time just back in May this year, he says that he was “in an acceptance phase. There was a lot of reflection. A lot of it is [sic] just ego.”
He says he accepts his achievements now as being enough to fulfill him, and he is quite right to do that. He had an incredible year and owns a fine palmares.
And yet… it doesn’t feel right somehow, to see a man who overcame his own limitations and the doubts of a good 98% of the cycling world, who conquered all and sundry in just about every race he entered, to see him walk away like this.
It feels, indeed, like a towel has been thrown in.
But then, this is, after all, Sir Bradley Wiggins – who are we to known what is going on inside that very intriguing head?