VeloVoices Debate: Bradley Wiggins

At VeloVoices we are united by our love of cycling, but that doesn’t mean we agree on everything. Life would be very boring if we did! We like nothing better than a good debate.

Tim and Kitty have been chewing the fat over the riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma that is triple Olympic gold medal-winner and Sky GC leader Bradley Wiggins. Yesterday he became only the second British rider – after Tom Simpson in 1967 – to win the prestigious Paris-Nice stage race. This not only confirmed his status as one of the favourites for a podium place at July’s Tour de France – a feat no British rider has ever achieved – but also moved him up to second place in the latest WorldTour individual rankings, behind only Movistar’s Alejandro Valverde.

But Wiggins also divides opinions in a way few others do. Here we look at the case for and against the man nicknamed ‘Wiggo’.

Witness for the prosecution: Kitty

Bradley Wiggins seems to divide opinion amongst cycling fans. I know what side I’m on. I don’t like him as a rider and there are a number of reasons for this. There have been a couple of absolutely disgraceful episodes in his road racing career that I just can’t get over.

The first was his treatment of Garmin after his fourth place in the 2009 Tour. Here was a team that took him in and gave him a contract when pretty much no one else wanted him – he’d bounced from Credit Agricole to Cofidis to HTC-Columbia in as many years, trying to find his place in road racing and getting nowhere. Garmin realised he had form in the Tour and rode to put him fourth. Then David Brailsford and Team Sky started up, he played a ridiculous “I’m not going to Sky” game with the media until, shock horror, it’s announced he’s breaking his contract and going to Sky. All that would be understandable but his comparison of Garmin to Wigan and Sky to Manchester United was just ungracious – and an insult to his Garmin teammates – bye bye losers! (Not to mention, how do you know it’s Man U? They hadn’t won anything yet – obviously it’s the Man U-sized money.)

The other disgraceful episode was at last year’s Vuelta. Wiggins, in the leader’s jersey, blew on the Angliru, after being dragged up the climb by Chris Froome, who was quite obviously the stronger of the two. Once he was released from his domestique duties, Froome showed his true form – a winning form by anyone’s reckoning. Wiggins lost the red jersey and slipped to third. So what was the question he asked on Twitter?

I’ll disregard the misspelling of ‘losing’ and go for a) why are you asking people on Twitter what you should do? b) why are you cycling if you have to ask this question, and, most importantly, why wasn’t the tweet c) “The strongest man on my team is Chris Froome, so I’m riding for him so that he can win a Grand Tour.” But that didn’t seem to occur to him. Shameful!

Add to that his passive/aggressive relationship with the press (he seems to be ‘misquoted’ a lot), his huffy responses when he fails to live up to expectations (when he came in 77th in the 2010 Tour prologue, he said “I don’t give a monkey’s – prologues don’t mean anything in a three-week race” – tell Andy Schleck that) and the sheer joylessness in his riding, and he embodies everything I hate about some riders. He does what he has to do to minimise his losses, but he’s never going to blow the doors off a race, he’s never going to risk losing in order to win, he’s always going to be a cautious rider. While I’m sure he’s loving the success now – and he has worked effectively to achieve it – I don’t think he actually enjoys road racing.

Witness for the defence: Tim

Sometimes Bradley Wiggins makes me cringe. I wish he didn’t say some of the things he says. I wish he had the same love for cycling that, say, Mark Cavendish does, rather than implying it’s just a job to him. I wish he rode with a bit more panache. These things all make Wiggins unlikeable to many.

Do you know what? That doesn’t matter to me. It shows he’s flawed, human – like the rest of us.

Let’s be clear about one thing. Wiggins is one of the most talented, versatile athletes in cycling. We are talking about a triple Olympic and six-time World Championship gold medallist on the track, mostly in pursuit disciplines which are all about sustained, controlled power. Road racing is a different beast. Many have attempted the transition from track to road, but how many have done so successfully? You don’t finish top-four at two Grand Tours – or win Paris-Nice and the Dauphine – if you’re not a very, very good all-rounder.

Of course, I’d love it if Wiggins possessed the savage acceleration and swashbuckling style of an Alberto Contador or Joaquim Rodriguez. He doesn’t. Neither does Cadel Evans, but the Australian has other qualities and has developed his own winning style. Not everyone can win with blistering accelerations on double-digit gradients. But a champion maximises the tools at his disposal and covers up his shortcomings. Compare and contrast with Andy Schleck, who whinges endlessly about descents and time trials, or the underachieving Jan Ullrich. Cadel Evans found a way to adapt. Wiggins shows signs of doing so too, and he shouldn’t have to apologise for not being a 55kg mountain goat.

In his dealings with the media, I find him refreshingly honest. Sometimes this is to his detriment – he is painted (correctly, I suspect) as a grumpy old git, and too often he back-tracks with claims of being misquoted. But give me a rider who says what he thinks and occasionally lives to regret it, rather than the PR-trained vacuousness that comes out of the mouths of others. I wish he hadn’t said what he said at the Vuelta, but how many riders would have thought exactly that and then trotted out the company line? I wish his departure from Garmin hadn’t been so ungracious too. But he knew this was probably his last big chance to secure financial security for his family – he had hardly amassed a footballer-style fortune before then. In his position, I’d have grabbed Sky’s shiny nickel too.

The other thing about Wiggins is that he does take his sport seriously. Commentators at Paris-Nice noted his habit of warming down after stages, as if this was some bizarre form of witchcraft. And, as Sheree noted in her Paris-Nice review, he did a proper recce of the Col d’Eze time trial, rather than just pitching up and hoping for the best. Call me silly, but I think that’s rather admirable. Or perhaps a better word would be ‘professional’.

Does cycling course through Wiggins’ veins like a drug? If you cut him open, does he bleed jaune? Is he truly passionate about the sport? Perhaps not. So what? Wiggins maximises his strengths and compensates for his weaknesses. That’s what a champion does. That’s why I like him, warts and all.

What do you think of Bradley Wiggins? Love or hate? Leave a comment and join the debate!

9 thoughts on “VeloVoices Debate: Bradley Wiggins

  1. Sheree says:

    I confess he’s high on the list of my favourite riders, he does after all weigh less than me!

    But I am impressed with his professionalism on the road and track and the way he makes the most of his abilities, especially when many more talented riders seem to squander their’s. In the end, it is all about winning. Panache is all very well but it doesn’t pay the mortgage. Plus he’s given me bragging rights down at the cycle club for a couple of weeks – thanks Brad.

    • pauladamcook says:

      True, panache doesn’t pay the mortgage, but it wins races. And I don’t care about Brad’s mortgage, I want exciting races!

  2. pauladamcook says:

    Excellent arguments from both, but I lean towards Kitty’s POV here. I find Wiggins dull, and pretty ungracious. You never see him light up a race, he’s never without his armed guard, he never goes on an attack. He is pretty complete, but without that spark I don’t think he’ll ever win a Grand Tour. I suppose he is comparable to Cadel, but Cadel seems to marshal the peloton, an example being chasing down Schleck and Bertie at last years tour. He got to the front of the pack and pulled them along like a diesel engine. I just can’t imagine Brad doing that. At least not without it seeming like a huge set piece, with all of Sky brought to help. No charisma, and not willing to risk it all. Imagine if all the big guns were like that, how dull it would be. And he has stupid hair.

    • Good points, Paul, although I’m not sure Cadel really marshalled the peloton on the two passes of the Galibier. It was more that he took it on himself because no one else would, and he didn’t have BMC teammates around him to do the donkey work – that says as much about BMC’s vulnerability in the mountains as it does about Cadel (who was, in fairness, absolutely magnificent). Without Contador at the front, the Tour peloton lacks a true patron. Cadel isn’t really one, and Andy Schleck most certainly isn’t.

      Wiggo can certainly pull on the front of the peloton as well as anyone – witness his monster turn towards the end of the World Champs road race last year – but if his Sky team is good enough he won’t need to, as he will have the likes of Uran and Porte to do that for him. I’m not entirely sure Wiggins can carry the race on his shoulders the way Cadel did but if the team does its job he won’t have to.

  3. Thanks for the comment, Paul, glad to have someone on my side! I can understand Sheree’s remark ‘it’s all about the winning’ but you win with teammates and he seems to be a team player only when it suits him. That’s my biggest problem with him. I think if you’re talented enough, you can win and still be gracious.

  4. Anthony Beal says:

    I’m a little bit torn to some extent. I have an admiration for what Wiggins has achieved in his career, and his victories initially appealed to my sense of national pride. However, as a cycling fan, I lean more to the guys that are a bit more exciting, unpredictable, passionate, brave, and at times plain deranged. It’s the scenes of Abdou smashing over the foot of a barrier, Roche collapsing off his bike after chasing Delgado down, Fignon fighting but failing in Paris, or a stupidly long solo break to victory from Thiery Marie that stick with me more than the consistent guy that grinds it out. That’s just me, and while I want to be entertained, Wiggins wants to ride to use his strengths to win, or at least consolidate third place…

    • I understand completely. We all want to see exciting, attacking, passionate riders – that’s why I love Cav and Kitty loves Cancellara – but equally it takes all sorts, and the variety of styles in the peloton is also appealing. The way Cadel won the Tour last year – toughness, intelligence and a bit of verve – was to me just as thrilling as watching Contador or Armstrong or Hinault crushing their rivals in the mountains.

      My feeling is that Wiggins is not a rider who sets the pulse racing – you know what, neither was Miguel Indurain – but equally he gets slagged off a lot by people who would rather see riders lose gloriously than win at all.

  5. He’s not alone in being a pro cyclist with zero personality. Maybe it’s the result of a life dedicated to one single, lonely pursuit.

    Nonetheless, he looked electric in that uphill time trial to win Paris Nice and I’ll be cheering him on all year. Plus he’s putting this year’s Tour above the Olympics which I like.

    • Of course, it’s not just a lot of cyclists who have zero personality. Competitors in any high-profile sport these days are media-trained to within an inch of their lives. It’s not necessarily that they are personality vacuums, it’s often that they are trained not to show too much of it, being taught to say the ‘right’ things to avoid being misquoted or painted in a bad light in a way that might upset the sponsors. Just look at the Schlecks!

      Gone are the days when, say, a footballer could go down to the pub with a journalist and just chat without fear of having their words scandalised to create headlines and drive circulation. In that respect, the accessibility of cyclists is so much better than it is in most other sports. You wouldn’t get a Premier League footballer agreeing to talk to VeloVoices in the way that riders such as Amael Moinard and Geoffroy Lequatre have willingly done.

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