Here Wiggo. HOW BRADLEY WIGGINS WENT FROM A BIKE-MAD KID TO BRINK OF MAKING TOUR DE FRANCE HISTORY

The Mirror (London, England), July 21, 2012 | Go to article overview
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Here Wiggo. HOW BRADLEY WIGGINS WENT FROM A BIKE-MAD KID TO BRINK OF MAKING TOUR DE FRANCE HISTORY


Byline: ALUN PALMER

BRADLEY Wiggins is set to ride into the history books.

Tomorrow, the 32-year-old will cycle down the Avenue des Champs-[ETH]lyses and cross the finish line of the Tour de France as the first British winner of the prestigious tournament - bar a catastrophic mishap.

Success now seems to come easily to the gifted cyclist. But it wasn't always so.

At the Athens Games in 2004 he became the first Briton for 40 years to win gold, silver and bronze. But the Olympic medals hung heavy around his neck and he admits that afterwards he lost the plot, getting "absolutely wasted", gaining weight and having no motivation.

"I didn't know how to handle the situation and I couldn't cope," he said later.

"It's one thing winning a gold medal but dealing with it afterwards was even bigger.

"Everyone's view of me was: 'That's Brad Wiggins, the Olympic champion. He's such a strong character.'

"But, really, I wasn't. I needed help. I had no motivation to do anything. No one tells you how it's going to be after you win an Olympic gold. I had lost a big thing in my life. Something that had driven me for so long was gone. I needed a counsellor to help me through it.

"People were telling me I had to do this and had to do that. But I never had the chance to sit down and think what I wanted. I put on a stone in weight because I wasn't riding my bike and I was drinking a lot. I was going to a lot of functions and at some of them I'd get absolutely wasted.

"I'd lived so religiously in the run-up to Athens that I just wanted to feel normal again."

The lull lasted two years before he returned to the track. But he came back stronger and more focused than before and at the Beijing Olympics in 2008 won two golds.

Winning the Tour and another Olympic gold in London will earn him a place among the sporting gods but the road he has travelled has been far from smooth.

Bradley was born in April 1980, in Ghent, Belgium, 15 months after his parents married. Dad Gary was a hard-drinking Australian track cyclist with a violent temper. His skill on a bike had taken him from a country town outside Melbourne to Europe and on to the cycling circuit. Gary began taking amphetamines to give him a competitive edge but it exacerbated his aggression. He regularly got into fights with other riders and began settling arguments with his fists when he returned home to wife Linda.

Wanting peace, Linda came back to the UK at Christmas in 1982. Gary called her and told her not to bother coming back as he had found someone else.

He packed all their belongings in black bin bags, took the ferry to Linda's parents' home and dumped the bags outside. He took Bradley for a dismal outing and then disappeared from his life for nearly two decades. Bradley wrote in his autobiography: "As far as Gary was concerned, we didn't exist. He insisted on taking me to London Zoo where he even asked a passer-by to take a rather poignant picture of father and son, apparently enjoying an idyllic day out together. It was the last time I saw him for nearly 17 years.

"I've got the picture. I tried occasionally to create the fantasy I had of a father but the door was slammed firmly shut on Linda and myself. As far as Gary was concerned we didn't exist."

Linda and her son got a flat in Kilburn, North London, where the young Bradley dreamed of becoming... Gary Lineker.

Perhaps surprisingly, given her disastrous marriage to a professional cyclist, his mother had other ideas.

"'All kids want to be professional footballers,' she said. 'I think you'd make a better cyclist.'"

He began cycling to Hyde Park from their flat but after Chris Boardman won cycling gold at the Barcelona Olympics he began taking it seriously.

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