Sir Bradley Wiggins, five times an Olympic champion and, in 2012, the first British rider to win the Tour de France, has spoken of the mental pressures elite athletes face, and says that the “rock star” persona he adopted was a means of coping with his own insecurity.
Speaking to Team GB track and field stars Adam Gemili and Andrew Pozzi for Eurosport’s Gemili & Poz podcast, Wiggins said that as his profile grew as a result of his success, he increasingly played a role in public that did not reflect his true character.
From that point of view, 2012 was probably ‘Peak Wiggo’. A week after winning the Tour de France – he opened his victory speech on the Champs-Elysees with the words “Right, we're just going to draw the raffle numbers” – he rang the bell to get the London 2012 Olympic opening ceremony under way, going on to win the time trial at Hampton Court.
Books and chat show appearances followed, and December that year was particularly hectic – Wiggins picking up the BBC Sports Personality of the Year trophy, and jamming onstage with Paul Weller at a benefit concert for the charity Crisis. He also and collaborated with the former Jam and Style Council frontman for a BBC Radio 6 Boxing Day Special.
“I was insecure in many ways as an athlete really,” he told Gemili and Pozzi.
“I had a veil and fronted as a bit of a rock star and things like that. I played the guitar – that was all just a front really.
“It wasn’t really me – it was just a veil that I hid behind. As I got famous after 2012 I almost played the character more. That’s all gone now. I feel so separated from the athlete or from the person I was when I was an athlete.”
He continued: “You’re expected to be so mentally strong when you’re an athlete – people say – ‘oh you won the Tour de France, you must be so mentally strong’. But it doesn’t correlate to normal life.
“I think a lot of elite athletes are insecure – I was very insecure off the bike – constantly questioning myself, constantly doubting myself.
“But when I could execute a performance, I seemed to be able to have something that dialled in and was able to block out all the emotion and everything. But off it, I didn’t know what to do with myself.”
As happens with many athletes across the whole range of sports, Wiggins said that he had problems adapting to life away from competition once he had retired.
“I think it’s a case of building more on the person away from sport, so they have the chance to build on the emotions when they are racing.
“There is no welfare and middle line for the athletes – athletes go until they break.
“I have thoughts about how to set up a platform where there is more protection for athletes from a mental health perspective,” added Wiggins, who recently revealed ambitions to train as a doctor.
In an interview with The Times last month, he said: “A lot of ex-athletes focus on what they won and it’s, ‘Do you know who I am and what I did?’
“But if you can reapply it to your life, it’s good grounding because it shows you can apply yourself to something else.
“My goal now in life is to be working in the clinical, medical field. I’d like to become a doctor and redefine myself.”
Simon joined road.cc as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.