‘Life was never the same again’: In conversation with Sir Bradley Wiggins on his cycling career and rise to fame

The Tab sat down with Sir Bradley Wiggins to discuss his career, success, and plans for the future

On 17 March, The Tab sat down with Sir Bradley Wiggins during his visit to the Cambridge Union to discuss his cycling career, experience of fame, and plans for the future.

Wiggins is a former British professional cyclist who competed professionally from 2001 to 2016. In 2012, he won both the Tour de France and an Olympic Gold, becoming the only rider to have ever won both in the same year. From 2004 to 2016, he was Great Britain’s most decorated Olympian, with eight medals in total.

Sir Bradley Wiggins speaking at the Cambridge Union. (Image credits: Nordin Ćatić)

Rise to fame

We began by discussing Wiggins’ experience in 2012, and his sudden rise to immense fame as a result of him winning the Tour de France and only a week later, an Olympic Gold in the men’s individual time trial. Wiggins described the period as “horrible […] in so many ways,” detailing how although he could be trained to win his races, he could never be trained for the subsequent success and its side effects.  He described how over the years he has “fleeted back and forth […] and wished it hadn’t happened,” adding that after 2012, “life was never the same again.”

Reflecting on his experience of the professional cycling world, Wiggins described how it made him “a dreadful person,” describing how “you have to be selfish, you have to put everyone else second. […] your life is the centre of the world in terms of everyone around you. And everyone has to put up with it because this is what they have to do, this is the sacrifice you have to make.” He said this was a common experience amongst elite athletes due to the nature of professional sport.

A busy chamber at the Cambridge Union (Image credits: Nordin Ćatić)

The cycling world

Discussing his experience of professional cycling, Wiggins portrayed a “cut-throat world,” with the perceived “big, happy family” being actually “just a functioning machine of a team”. In particular, holding the number one position was accompanied by significant pressure, as “you’re there to be shot at from everyone else, your teammates as well.” He blames the money involved in elite sports for creating this environment. Since leaving the professional cycling world, he describes how many of his connections are now “like ex work colleagues” rather than the “friends for life” that he thought they were at the time. Speaking later at the Cambridge Union, Wiggins described how he never really loved cycling, it was just “always about winning.”

However, Wiggins remarked on the different nature of the current cycling world, noticing a shift from the hierarchical world that he entered when he began: “You had to earn your time […] and there was a lot more respect within the Peleton for older riders” which allowed “bullying” to occur. He detailed how now, it has changed to be so “the fastest man wins”, based on merit rather than career. He states this has “changed the whole […] dynamic of the sport, really. For the better.”

Wiggins was exposed to the cycling world for his entire life as his father, Gary Wiggins, was also a professional cyclist. However, his father left home when he was a baby and he did not meet him again until he was 19. He described the difficulty that accompanied this relationship, and how he was brought up hearing about his father, with his cycling traits being “glorified,” alongside what Wiggins’ described as his “bad traits […] as a person.”

Wiggins’ son, Ben, is following in his footsteps, and became the European Champion in the 2022 junior track points race. Wiggins expressed support for him, suggesting he has the potential to “be better” than himself. However, Wiggins prefers to remain relatively uninvolved in his cycling career, prioritising being “a stable role model for him in a father figure sense,” emphasising that “cycling is not everything.”

Sir Bradley Wiggins answering questions from the audience at the Cambridge Union. (Image credits: Nordin Ćatić)

The Future

Turning to the future, Wiggins discussed how he has now taken a step back from cycling, after being “too involved with cycling for so many years […] I just kind of wanted to do something else.” Since leaving cycling he has tried out other sports, including rowing and boxing. He also described how he has been working for the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children and Mind charity.

Despite not having any set plans, Wiggins remains optimistic, as “things come along when you least expect them.” His priority is now embracing his role as a father to his children.

Featured Image Credits: Nordin Ćatić

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