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Cycling supremo: Interview with Bradley Wiggins

Oonagh Turner talks to Bradley Wiggins about his upcoming theatre tour and what this year’s Tour de France was like – on the back of a motorbike

It’s 2012 and Bradley Wiggins has been catapulted into the spotlight, going from winning the Tour de France to dominating the track and winning gold in the London Olympic cycling time trial. Fans flock to the Tudor palace at Hampton Court for the final stretch and a glimpse of cycling’s new golden boy sprawled on the winner’s throne, oh so coolly throwing peace signs out to adoring crowds in the grip of Olympic fever. Since 2012, the sport has experienced a renaissance across the UK, owing in part to the charisma and iconic sideburns of Bradley Wiggins.

Seven years on and Bradley Wiggins is a national treasure, a household name, a pioneer of the sport, and even a ‘Sir’. This year, he will be taking his cycling anecdotes and plethora of medals on a different tour to the one that snakes through France, instead across the UK, with theatre shows that will be making a pit stop at New Wimbledon Theatre. So what’s in store?

“I think a bit of everything – we haven’t really worked out the format of the show yet, I quite like going in a bit blind because I tend to not really know what I’m talking about and once I start talking I don’t really stop so I think you get a better content. If it’s too planned you tend to just recite stuff over and over. I think by the end it becomes very rehearsed and formal and you lose a lot of the human side,” he says.

The unplanned element allows then for room for spontaneity, meaning each show could take a different turn. “They could be different, but there will be some element of structure. Ultimately what I want to get out is content so it will be the same subjects but told in different ways and different stories – as long as it retains that emotion.”

“I like people to just go away and learn something new about me and break down the perception of what they thought about me.”

This ‘perception’ is something the cycling star has famously found trying and his reluctant celebrity demeanour has been translated in the media as cantankerous. But Bradley has come far since 2012, realising that the limelight is unavoidable and instead taking to the stage – perhaps an unlikely departure for someone who once didn’t enjoy the spotlight. “I kind of embrace it now really and try to be myself more which I am very comfortable with. I’m quite honest really, I’m quite raw,” he says. “People have a public perception of you or what they think of you and I think I am constantly changing that now the more I speak and I’m comfortable and ready to do that – I enjoy making a living out of the sport I love.”

“I didn’t really like that person before because he could be a selfish, narrow-minded person and I’m less angry now.”

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Bradley comes to the theatre fresh from the 2019 Tour, but this time on the back of a very different bike, having called time on his cycling career in 2016. Brad on a Bike saw a relaxed Bradley, commentating on the most prestigious event in cycling from the comfort of a motorbike, quaffing Champagne en route. “It was superb,” says Bradley “I just loved it – it was a privilege to be in that position and be able to commentate from that point of view. Obviously it was something different and never been done before so it brought a bit more insight to the viewer back home and I can’t wait to do it again.”

Aside from the sheer joy of rolling through mountainous landscapes on a motorbike, Bradley found the experience nostalgic, specifically the final stage. “Paris was more nostalgic than the other parts – that was definitely the highlight as I haven’t really been back since 2012. I felt it was the right time of my life as it feels quite detached from my own career – there was nothing bitter about it, it was just a privilege.”

Bradley also took the time to reflect on the wider sport in general. “It’s mad how hard it is and seeing how much the guys suffer. It really brings back memories of what you’re taking on. The other thing that struck me was just how skinny the guys are – you forget very quickly so it was almost a newfound respect for them.”

His tour win at the forefront of his mind, Bradley sees his sporting highlight very much as a wider part of a cycling renaissance and the London Olympics. “2012 was definitely the highlight of my performance career – the execution I did on that day in London 10 days after the tour, but it also coincided with the boom in cycling and it coincided with other moments like Mark Cavendish and Chris Hoy and Victoria Pendleton in London,” he says.

“I grew up in London so to be able to do that on your home soil at the height of the popularity of the sport and in London itself in a sporting couple of weeks it was just an amazing thing to be part of. I don’t think I will ever forget it and none of us will – people in London were actually nice to each other!”

The London Olympics may be seven years ago, but the sport continues to go from strength to strength off the back of that summer. “It’s all very well having one successful person but that success has carried on which continues to inspire people.”

“I grew up in London so to be able to do that on your home soil at the height of the popularity of the sport and in London itself in a sporting couple of weeks it was just an amazing thing to be part of. I don’t think I will ever forget it and none of us will”

Cycling’s success doesn’t come without its flaws though, according to Sir Bradley: “I think in terms of taking it up as an activity, the more elite and the more successful the sport becomes, it brings problems. The grass roots is more competitive than it ever was and with more competition comes better bikes, better equipment and I think it’s actually becoming less accessible for young people. That’s unfortunate but the sport is still there to be found and discovered with the freedom it gives you on the bike.”

“When I came through, we had a club system which was a lot more inclusive, no matter what bike or kit you’ve got or what jersey you’re wearing, I mean when I started I was wearing my mum’s leggings with loops sewed on the bottom from Primark! We’ve lost a bit of that element, particularly in London.” According to Bradley, spreading the word and upsetting the trend is how to combat this exclusivity. “I quite often go out with my daughter on the bike and I just wear a tracksuit and trainers. I think some of the bigger brands need to be a bit more wary and accommodating but keep that edge,” something Bradley is attempting to achieve with his cycling brand, Le Col.

The London scene booming, Bradley once liked looping around Regent’s Park. “I started going round there when I was a teen. I was the only one there in the early 90s. You go round there now certain times of the day and there is best part of 500 cyclists round there which is phenomenal really.”

Officially taking a back seat then [and recently reported that he has signed up to do a degree in social work] who’s flying the flag for the future of the sport? “Tom Pidcock is one to watch. He has come through our Team Wiggins system. He’s phenomenal talent and already multiple Junior World Champion in cyclocross and time trailing. He will turn pro in the next year or two and he will be someone who could potentially win a Tour de France one day and carry on the reign of Geraint Thomas.”

  • Bradley Wiggins comes to New Wimbledon Theatre, 6 October
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