Sir Bradley Wiggins has admitted that he no longer rides a bike “because I don’t like the person I became when I was on it”, and that his only memory of standing on the Champs-Élysées after winning the 2012 Tour de France stems from watching the moment back on television.
Speaking as part of ‘Imposter Syndrome’, a new six-part BBC documentary series set to air next week, the five-time Olympic gold medallist also said that he was told as a teenager by his estranged father Garry that he would “never be as good as your old man”, a “haunting” comment Wiggins says helped propel him to the success he achieved over the next 15 years of his career.
“I don’t ride a bike anymore because I don’t like the person I became when I was on it,” the 43-year-old tells Rob Adcock during the revealing interview.
“I can’t imagine achieving anything like that now in a sports perspective because I’m not the same person I was. I’ve grown now. I have all the answers. That all stems from my sporting career and greatness stems from an oddness about me which wasn’t resolved from childhood.
“I was the most confident bike rider when I was on it. But step off the bike and I had to step back as Bradley Wiggins, because the bike was where I was most comfortable and gave me all my confidence in my life.”
Wiggins also delved into his decision, as the media glare intensified in the wake of his phenomenally successful 2012 season, to craft a ‘persona’ in order to deal with the increased fame and pressure.
“When I came off the bike and had to sit on the throne in front of a bank of cameras, I’d have to give it victory signs, be funny, and perform,” he says, referencing his iconic celebration following his victory in the time trial at the London Olympics.
“I have no memory of standing on the Champs-Élysées or on any Olympic podium. The only memory I have of it is watching it back on TV.
“When we were at my last Olympics in Rio [in 2016], the TV camera came on me during the national anthem and I could see myself on the big screen, so I pulled my tongue out.
“I would do that quite a lot in those important moments, really. I was so self-conscious of being looked at.”
The former Team Sky leader continued: “The minute I stepped off that rostrum I was back as myself and I didn’t have the veil, the cycling, the bike.
“I had to be me, the person, and suddenly I felt, like, on my own. Which is why I then started growing the sideburns, the hair longer. Put funny suits on. It was all a distraction from actually being me.”
During the interview, Wiggins also shed further light on his fractured relationship with his father Garry, a renowned Australian six-day track racer, who was absent for most of his son’s childhood and teenage years and died in 2008 following an altercation at a party.
“A lot of my cycling career was about running away from my past. It was a distraction,” Wiggins, whose own son Ben won silver in the junior time trial at this year’s world championships in Scotland, says in the documentary.
“And a lot of it is intrinsically linked around my father and the lack of a father figure as a child. I can remember writing notes on the back of photos I had of [Garry] when I was maybe 12 or 13, writing him letters.
“To this person that was out there somewhere, that maybe wasn’t out there, ‘cos we’d heard all sorts of stories about him being murdered and in prison.”
Wiggins talks to son Ben during the 2022 British track championships (Will Palmer/SWpix.com)
Wiggins Snr eventually reached out to Bradley when he was 17, as his results at junior level began to attract attention in the cycling press.
“He rang up my nan’s house. He wanted to be part of the success and make up for all those years, and then I eventually met him two years later, when I was 19,” Wiggins says.
“He had no money and he came over to Belgium to a race I was doing, and I’ll never forget it. It was probably the hardest day of my life, actually, meeting him. Within a week he said to me, ‘You’ll never be as good as your old man’. The sort of jealousy crept in. To this day I remember clearly where I was when he said it.
“I was in the centre of the track in Ghent in Belgium. I’d done quite a good performance on the track and everyone was cheering for me. I was racing against men and shining. And he couldn’t handle it. He couldn’t handle the attention on me.
“He said to me, ‘Just don’t forget, you’ll never be as good as your old man’. He squeezed my arm and came in quite close to me so no one else could hear.
“It was quite a haunting experience. From that day on there was this drive for so long after that to be better than him. That’s what spurred me on in 2012.”
In his 2008 autobiography, In Pursuit of Glory, Wiggins recounts a similar event during a track meet in Australia, where the then-19-year-old raced the Madison as part of his preparation for the Sydney Olympics.
“By the end of my race – we finished a very credible second – he was surrounded by a pile of ‘tinnies’, absolutely hammered and intent on slagging me off in front of everybody and telling me what I had done wrong and how he would have done it differently and won. ‘You got it all wrong, sunshine, your old dad would have won, Brad. No worries. We used to beat everybody in Europe. I was champion of Europe. Did I ever tell you that, Brad? We were the best, nobody could bloody touch us’,” Wiggins wrote.
Wiggins’ detailed interview with the BBC comes after the eight-time world champion spoke out for the first time earlier this year about the abuse he suffered as a child by a cycling coach.
Speaking to the Times, Wiggins recalled how Stan Knight, who died in 2003, would take him on training camps to a youth hostel in Dorset aged 12, sleep in the same bed, and abuse him in the shower, accusations repeated in the account of another victim.
Knight was a coach at the Archer Road Club in London and has attracted complaints from more former members than just Wiggins and the other rider the newspaper spoke to, with the family of another boy also reporting concerns to British Cycling.
Wiggins explained how his abuse began with “minor acts” presented under the pretence that Knight’s actions were simply to help with sporting performance.
Following the allegations, British Cycling offered a statement saying “abuse of any kind has no place in sport” and urged anyone with “concerns about non-recent or current abuse to report them” to the governing body’s safeguarding team.
Ryan joined road.cc in December 2021 and since then has kept the site’s readers and listeners informed and enthralled (well at least occasionally) on news, the live blog, and the road.cc Podcast. After boarding a wrong bus at the world championships and ruining a good pair of jeans at the cyclocross, he now serves as road.cc’s senior news writer. Before his foray into cycling journalism, he wallowed in the equally pitiless world of academia, where he wrote a book about Victorian politics and droned on about cycling and bikes to classes of bored students (while taking every chance he could get to talk about cycling in print or on the radio). He can be found riding his bike very slowly around the narrow, scenic country lanes of Co. Down.