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Wiggins, the pursuit of perfection

news28.07.2012After the race

Le peloton sur les Champs-Élysées - © ASO/P.Perreve

32-year-old Bradley Wiggins recently became the first British Tour de France champion at the end of a race marked with the colours of Team Sky, which also propelled Christopher Froome to second place. The yellow jersey of the 2012 Tour and winner of the Besançon and Chartres time trials managed to transcend his image as a pursuit cyclist limited to the race against the clock and metamorphosed into a strong leader on all terrains.

Another caterpillar emerges from its cocoon as a butterfly! Pushing the pedals in a velodrome is probably not where you would have expected to find a young boy in the afternoon in early 1990s England. But Bradley Wiggins' love affair with track cycling started at the age of 12 thanks to his father Gary's long career as a six-day racer. He did not learn much from his absent father, but the genes he inherited from him are partly responsible for his great talent. In fact, his precocity and the determination with which he pursued his ambition to become a pro cyclist are the signs a one-of-a-kind personality. Surrounded by books, pictures and results of all sorts of races from a very early age, Bradley's teenage years revolved around cycling to an extent only matched by his tenacity in practising the sport.

A fixated Bradley first focused on the track in pursuit of his Olympic dreams, seizing his chance by crossing the Channel to sign his first professional contract with FDJ. His first experience at the Olympics ended on a sour note after a fall in the penultimate lap of the Madison cost him a second medal in Sydney to go with the bronze medal won in the team pursuit. His frustration only served to stoke his fire and push him towards finding a way of achieving his goals. In the run-up to the 2004 Olympics he even decided to leave his comfortable place at FDJ in order to leave some breathing space between him and Bradley McGee, his arch-rival in the 4 km pursuit race. As the pundits predicted, it all came down to a duel in the Athens velodrome, where Wiggins prevailed to claim the gold medal. His preparation for Beijing went even more smoothly and the Briton with the big engine ruled the pursuit race with an iron fist, taking gold in both the team and the individual efforts.

the track cyclist of Beijing sheds eight kilos

On the road too, a series of triggers and revelations transformed a time trialist limited to shining a few days every season into a strong all-rounder capable of keeping up with the best climbers despite lacking the explosiveness of the likes of Andy Schleck and Alberto Contador. Following his stints at Crédit Agricole and Cofidis, Wiggins' victorious Chinese campaign demolished his mental blocks and heralded the rise of a whole new rider. First came his physical metamorphosis, as the track cyclist of Beijing burned eight kilos and went on to claim fourth place in the 2009 Tour de France for Garmin, a feat that was reported and celebrated but not always recognised for its true value. But Wiggins understood that he was now playing in a whole new league and became aware of his newly-found potential. His time came with the creation of Team Sky, which was willing to put the necessary means, ideas and actions on the table to turn the lanky redhead into a fully-fledged leader. Into a lean, mean, winning machine.

His 2010 season, in which his decision to start the Giro d'Italia before having another go at the Tour might have hurt his prospects, tantalised the Englishman and taught him patience. Wiggins' motivation only grew after crashing out of the 2011 Tour with a broken collarbone. He built confidence and set his sights on the 2012 edition, oozing determination and emboldening his entire team. The story of Wiggo's triumph is to be read as a collective work with elements of a long-running saga whose beginning can be found all the way back in Paris-Nice. The first major race of the season was also Wiggins' first real test, following the unveiling of a course tailored to riders with big engines, and boosted his credentials as a serious contender. The Tour de Romandie and the Critérium du Dauphiné further showcased the firepower and depth of Team Sky: Wiggins' lieutenants in his many victories are as strong as they are loyal and devoted to the cause. Bradley took on the leader's mantle thanks to his crushing domination of time trials. Sky's winning formula had passed its one-week tests with flying colours and was ready to be applied to the Tour with the same determination... with an added element of endurance.

At the front of the race from the prologue in Liège, Wiggins and his men never shirked their duties. After taking yellow on La Planche des Belles Filles, the favourite never succumbed to the temptation of passing on the jersey temporarily to a rider in another team to take the weight of the race off his teammates' shoulders, even when the buffer he opened in the time trial over an ever-dwindling number of rivals served as a safeguard against unpleasant surprises. The guitar collector remained focused and on the lookout until the end of the stage to Peyragudes, when the magnitude of his feat started to sink in after passing the Col de Peyresourde. Two days later he grabbed a second stage win in the Chartres time trial, in which he killed two birds with one stone by putting to rest the speculation on the supposed superiority of his teammate and closest chaser, Chris Froome, and by sealing his victory in a general classification that never went beyond his control.

Wiggins punched the air with delight as he crossed the line. The yellow butterfly had taken to the air.

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