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Last Updated: Wednesday, 9 May 2007, 15:03 GMT 16:03 UK
Wiggins on track for road renown
By Matt Slater

Bradley Wiggins
Wiggins powers his way to a fine prologue victory in Dunkirk
This country isn't so blessed with double world champions that they can usually walk the cities where they grew up totally unrecognised.

And they are not normally shocked when a London cabbie picks them up, looks at them in the mirror for a minute and says, "you're that Bradley Wiggins, aren't you?" which is what happened to Wiggins on the way to this interview.

But then the Englishman, who has also won four Olympic medals, is a track cycling superstar and that automatically qualifies him for the finals of the "best British sportsperson you've never heard of" award.

That could all change this summer, though, as the most famous race in cycling's most glamorous discipline - road racing - is starting in London and the 27-year-old is among the favourites for the Tour de France's opening prologue.

And Wiggins, who has already earned an OBE for his exploits in two Olympics, is in no doubt that winning the 8km sprint around Hyde Park in the race's first visit to the British capital would represent the pinnacle of his career to date.

"I'm a two-time world pursuit champion and I'm coming into my prime," the Maida Vale-raised rider told BBC Sport.

I've got the Tour and the Olympics on my door step during the prime of my career - I'm excited

Bradley Wiggins
"The prologue is my FA Cup final as it's the one day in the Tour my track speed can really come into play. The distance suits me and I like the course.

"It's funny. I learned to ride in Hyde Park, around the Serpentine, when I was a kid. And my mum lives near the course in Victoria.

"But I'm not feeling any pressure. The way I see it is that this is an incredible opportunity. I've got the Tour and the Olympics on my door step during the five prime years of my career. I'm excited."

Before the Olympics come to London in 2012, however, Wiggins hopes to have already entered the record books by becoming the first man to retain his pursuit crown at the Beijing Games next year.

And after the way he dominated the event at the recent World Track Championships in Mallorca, who would bet against him? In the final, he caught his German opponent with more than a quarter of the race to go.

When I suggested that a third individual gold in London (not to mention the team and madison golds he could also claim) would take him into Sir Steve Redgrave territory he laughed it off before adding, "I'm not ruling out going to the 2016 Games - I'll be 36 but it's not impossible."

Bradley Wiggins
You go on because you don't want to let your team down - you have to stay in the race

And I believed him as Wiggins has that mix of brass-tacks honesty and complete self-confidence that marks out great individual sportsmen and women.

In fact, talking to him is like getting a free lesson in the self-perpetuating properties of belief and the certainty that hard work and talent can provide.

Looking back through my notes, Wiggins's answers seem over-confident and sometimes border on bragging, but face-to-face they did not seem that way at all. I remember him being modest and an absolute joy to interview.

When I asked him about the epic climbs the Tour de France is famous and feared for, Wiggins winced like a fun runner contemplating a marathon.

"The mountains are like nothing else I have ever experienced and that is why the Tour is the greatest challenge in the world," he said.

"One day you could be on cloud nine and then the next on cloud zero in the mountains.

"There were stages last year when we would have to get over four or five huge 'cols' in a day and I would be going backwards after the first one. It's a horrible feeling because you know you have four more to go.

606: DEBATE
"You just grit your teeth and group together at the back with the other non-climbers, praying that a team trying to put their leader in yellow doesn't attack again.

"The physical battle on days like that is hard enough but it's the mental battle that I remember. It's so tough.

"But you go on because you don't want to let your team down. We all have jobs to do. You have to stay in the race."

A professional cycling team is like a cross between a medieval guild and a perfect meritocracy. Learn your trade, do as you're told, prove your worth, and you will climb the corporate ladder.

After stop-start stints with Linda McCartney, Francaise des Jeux and Credit Agricole, Wiggins joined his current team Cofidis in 2005. Since then his progress has been impressive.

Never afraid to set a target, Wiggins was aiming for victory in last year's Tour prologue in Strasbourg. He failed to achieve that aim - he finished 16th - but did reach his second goal, to finish the race.

Bradley Wiggins
Wiggins wants to erase the memory of his 16th in the 2006 prologue
Some cycling fans, however, took that 16th as evidence that Wiggins would never fully transfer his track prowess to the road. He is great on the boards, they would say, but he is no Chris Boardman.

But Wiggins is nothing if not resilient. And his form - inside and outside the velodrome - over the last two months has been superb.

Two track golds in Mallorca were followed a week later by a second in the prologue of the Circuit de la Sarthe. Wiggins finished only two seconds down to Tour de France yellow jersey contender Andreas Kloden.

And then a month later the track superstar finally landed his first major road win - a convincing victory over another 9km course in the prologue of the Four Days of Dunkirk race. Suddenly Wiggins's prologue ambitions seemed very realisable.

His Tour goals, in fact, do not end with the prologue. He may not haul himself over the mountains again this year but he thinks he is capable of winning a stage on the flat.

The truth of it is that Wiggins is good at what he does and he knows it. If you ask him a question about his goals, he will give you an honest answer.

Not for him any superstitious concerns about creating hostages to fortune or sheepishness about sounding arrogant. He is happy to set realistic targets, make them known if asked and then do everything he can to meet them.

Bradley Wiggins
Four Olympic medals and counting, Wiggins is already a track great
I think that is refreshing, Australian, even. And I wish I heard it more regularly from British sports stars.

But perhaps the most appealing aspect of Wiggins's attitude is that he is entirely focused on success in his chosen profession. Success, not fame and fortune.

It struck me as interesting that he talked about "minority sports" being Britain's most successful right now, and that he referred to the prologue as his "cup final".

When I asked him if it bothered him that he wasn't better known in this country and if he thought that would ever change, he said no.

"I don't think cycling will ever be a really big sport in this country," he said.

"Things like the Tour de France and the Olympics make a massive impact but I can't see it changing things drastically in Britain. We're too football mad!"

Wiggins should know, he had trials with West Ham as a youngster before opting to pursue his pedalling talents.

The story is he was inspired by Boardman's gold at the 1992 Olympics but cycling was already in his blood, Wiggins's father Gary was a professional rider (hence Bradley's birth in Ghent).

Whatever the real inspiration, he was soon racing at Herne Hill's famous outdoor track and his rapid progress there made dreams of football fade and die.

A victory in Hyde Park this summer and that London cabbie will be telling fares for years to come about the time he had "that Bradley Wiggins" in his taxi. And if he wins Olympic gold there in 2012, every London cabbie will be telling the same story.

SEE ALSO
Wiggins claims Dunkirk prologue
09 May 07 |  Cycling
Le Tour looks for London boost
02 Feb 07 |  Cycling
Hushovd snatches Tour prologue
01 Jul 06 |  Cycling
Wiggins pulls off Olympic repeat
24 Jan 06 |  Cycling
Wiggins switches to Cofidis team
28 Sep 05 |  Cycling
Wiggins switches to road racing
07 Jan 05 |  Cycling
Boardman hails Wiggins
26 Aug 04 |  Cycling
Wiggins shocked by medal haul
25 Aug 04 |  Cycling


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