Sir Bradley Wiggins insists that disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong epitomises the “perfect winner” of the Tour de France envisioned by the race’s founder, Henri Desgrange.
Armstrong won seven successive editions of the race between 1999 and 2005, but was stripped of those titles in 2012 – the year Wiggins became the first Briton to win it – after being banned for life for doping.
The Texan was also disqualified from his third place in his comeback Tour de France in 2009, which saw Wiggins elevated to third place on the podium.
The Sunday Times reports that Wiggins made his comments in his book Icons, published this week and in which he gives his views on 21 stars of the sport, and acknowledged that his opinion could make him appear a “cycling heretic.”
“Look away now if you’re easily offended,” wrote Wiggins, who spoke of being inspired as a 13-year-old in by a meaty-looking American” who “looked an absolute beast on the bike.” The year, 1993, was when Armstrong won the road world championship.
Wiggins, who turned pro with the ill-fated Linda McCartney Racing Team in 2001, wrote of his first meeting with Armstrong: “It was during a bike race and he came up and rode alongside me. He said, ‘How you doin’ there, Wiggo?’ or words to that effect, and smiled at me. I felt 10ft tall because . . . well, because he was Lance Armstrong. Am I allowed to say that, or does it make me some sort of cycling heretic?”
The 38-year-old, who has himself been at the centre of allegations regarding doping regarding his use of therapeutic use exemptions (TUEs) allowing him to take otherwise banned drugs ahead of key races including the 2012 Tour de France, argues in the chapter about Armstrong that winners of the yellow jersey should not be subjected to usual standards.
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He said: “I feel privileged to be a member of this group of nutters; we are not what you might call ‘normal’ people, but ‘normal’ certainly doesn’t win you the Tour.
“Legend has it that Henri Desgrange, the father of the Tour, envisaged a ‘perfect winner’ … the ideal Tour de France would have one finisher, a type of super-athlete who would not only defeat his opponents but also whatever nature might throw at him.”
Maintaining that the winner of the yellow jersey “is always a very special, very driven human being, he continued: “Therein lies the paradox of Lance’s having being stripped. His opponents didn’t necessarily like him, but ... sure as hell respected him.”
He added that he saw Armstrong as “the archetypal Tour de France cyclist and he was precisely the sort of winner Desgrange had in mind 120 years ago”.
Wiggins isn’t the only British Tour de France winner to have a book published in the coming week, with Geraint Thomas’s first-hand account of his victory this year set to hit the bookshelves.
The Welshman rode alongside Wiggins during the 2010 and 2011 editions of the race, but was absent in 2012 as he concentrated on helping Team GB successfully defend the Olympic team pursuit title.
Both were in the quartet that had won the event at Beijing in 2008, but in his new book The Tour de France According to G, Thomas revealed that he has had minimal contact with his former team-mate in recent years.
“He messaged me after winning on Alpe d’Huez and I wasn’t sure if he had just been drinking, to be honest,” he told Telegraph Sport ahead of the publication of his book.
“It was nice. He was a guy I’ve always looked up to because he was doing what I wanted to do. But I’ve barely spoken to him in the last few years.”
After details of Wiggins’ TUEs – issued as a result of his asthma and hay fever – were published by Russian hackers following the Rio 2016 Olympics, Thomas told road.cc that he had never had one himself and called for rules surrounding their issue to be tightened up, as well as saying, “If you’ve got asthma, go and work in an office or something.”
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It’s a theme he returns to in his interview with the Telegraph, where he said they should only be granted in cases in which an athlete has diabetes or an equally serious condition.
He said: “If you have asthma and a pump can’t control it and you need something stronger, then you are not cut out to be a professional athlete.
“I may want to be a basketball player, but I’m only six foot,” he added.
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