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From track star to Tour contender

Lance Armstrong (right) beat Bradley Wiggins to a place on the Tour podium by just 37 seconds
Armstrong beat Wiggins to a place on the Tour podium by just 37 seconds

By Chris Bevan

He is a triple Olympic gold medallist and multiple world champion on the track - so we already knew that Bradley Wiggins was one of the best in the business on a bike.

But, for all his success over shorter distances in the velodrome, few would have thought the 29-year-old Londoner could emerge as a world-class road racer too.

Yet that is exactly what happened over the course of the last three weeks as Wiggins announced his arrival as a genuine contender to win the Tour de France.

Ultimately, he missed a place on the podium in Paris by 37 seconds after more than 85 hours of racing.


But his fourth place still matched Robert Millar in 1984 as the best ever finish by a Briton in the Tour and, along with Manxman Mark Cavendish and his six stage wins, Wiggins' performance has made the cycling world sit up and take notice.

Quite an achievement for someone who, when asked about his Tour ambitions just eight months ago, replied that wearing the yellow jersey after the opening day time trial was as much as he could hope to achieve in the race.

An awful lot has changed since then. But how?

Wiggins' dramatic recent weight loss is seen as the biggest reason why he was able to stay in contention at the top of the Tour's general classification.

He has shed 6kg since he last rode the Tour in 2007, earning a change in nickname from 'Wiggo' to 'Twiggo' in the process. His body fat level is just 4% - any lower and his health would be at risk.

Lance Armstrong, Bradley Wiggins and Alberto Contador
Wiggins tracked Armstrong and Contador through the mountains

His leaner frame was easier to haul up slopes that rose as high as 2,500m as the race weaved its way through the Pyrenees, into the Alps and to the top of the legendary Mont Ventoux.

But, as his close friend, coach and confidant, as well as British Cycling's performance manager, Shane Sutton explains, that was just one of the reasons why Wiggins shone in the world's toughest and most prestigious cycle race.

"For me it's also been about his belief," Sutton told BBC Sport. "Then he had to maintain that for the three weeks.

"He also had the perfect preparation for the Tour and, on top of that, his tactics have been sound.

"Bradley has always had the tools to do the job - he is a gifted endurance athlete. But he has gone about it in a really professional manner.

"I'm not surprised by how well he has done. He just had to take a step back and realise that it was going to take a lot of hard work."

The seeds of Wiggins' success were sown last year when, after missing the Tour to focus on the 2008 Olympics, he won gold in the individual and team pursuit events - meaning he now has medals from three different Games.

"The first thing that was important for Bradley was that he went and ticked the boxes at the Olympics," said Sutton, who will help to run the Team Sky British road racing team that launches next year.

I'm sure Bradley will come back to the track in London 2012 - he wants to be the Steve Redgrave of cycling

British Cycling performance manager Shane Sutton

"He did that - the guy has won six Olympic medals now. He wants to leave a legacy and I'm sure he will come back to the track in London 2012 - he wants to be the Steve Redgrave of cycling and I'm sure he will be.

"After Beijing was over, however, his focus was on the road."

That new ambition was matched by a new approach and, crucially, more time in the saddle as he looked to adjust from four-minute sprints to four-hour slogs.

"Usually he never has a good run at things," added Sutton. "He is dragged from pillar to post to make public appearances and he never really strings big cycles together.

"But, last winter, he got some consistent training under his belt. He wintered better than he has ever done and I attribute a lot of his success this season to that.

"Bradley worked and trained with our lads at the British Cycling Academy in Manchester doing long four or five-hour rides.

Bradley Wiggins
Wiggins won two gold medals at the 2008 Beijing Olympics

"That meant at the start of this road season he was ready. He realised he could be competitive and, when he got to races, he was banking miles straight away."

Wiggins showed he meant business in February when he made the decision to move to Girona to join compatriot David Millar and the rest of his Garmin team-mates at their headquarters in Spain.

He went there as a domestique for team leader Christian Vande Velde and his anonymity allowed him even more training time.

"Nobody knew who he was there," explained Sutton, who had always told Wiggins that he could be a force to be reckoned with on the road.

"So, instead of getting up in the morning and making another personal appearance, he would get up and (his wife) Cath would send him out on the bike with the rest of the team.

"By the time he got to the Giro d'Italia in May, he was flying. It was there he saw the first signs that he belonged in the company of the top riders - after riding the big climbs there and dropping the likes of Lance Armstrong, he thought 'I am up with the big boys'.

"The penny dropped for him and it was a case of him thinking 'can I go top 20 in the Tour de France?' A week into that, he was saying 'I can go top 10 here'."

By the time the Tour was into its third week, Wiggins had superseded Vande Velde and was even being talked about as being Alberto Contador's main rival for the yellow jersey.

Wiggins' fitness and dietary regime was allowing him to stay strong while other, more established, riders faltered.

Brad will want to come back next year and show everyone this wasn't a one-off. I expect him to be a contender for many years to come

British Cycling performance manager Shane Sutton

"Bradley has always been a beanpole but the advice he has had from British Cycling's nutritionist Nigel Mitchell has been a big factor in his success," added Sutton, who followers of Wiggins' Twitter feed will know stayed in constant contact with him throughout the race.

"The one thing we were keen to do was to make sure he lost the weight without losing his power.

"Nigel obviously knows his stuff because Brad produced immense power throughout the Tour, even in the final time trial (around Lake Annecy) after being in the Alps."

And adding psychologist Steve Peters to Wiggins' support ranks gave him added mental resolve too.

"This race is not just about your inner strength," said Sutton, who rode in the 1987 Tour and also won a team pursuit gold medal for Australia at the 1978 Commonwealth Games.

"Although you need that, it's been key for Bradley to have a guy of the calibre of Steve on the phone when he needs him, when he's been rocking a bit."

Bradley Wiggins
Wiggins celebrates with fans after completing the 2009 Tour in Paris

In the end, being on the wrong end of two splits in the peloton over two days proved to be the difference between Wiggins beating seven-time champion Armstrong to a top-three finish overall.

On stage three, he lost 40 seconds after crosswinds caused havoc in the peloton, while on Friday's stage 19, he lost another four seconds to the Texan despite being only two places behind him at the finish line.

But Sutton feels that, for the most part, Wiggins' tactics have been spot on in a race where the wrong decision can cost you dear.

"Bradley is the John Motson of cycling, the best statistician you have ever met," added Sutton.

"He will have done his homework before every stage. Put it this way, Bradley would be able to tell you the socks that Greg LeMond was wearing on the Champs Elysees when he beat Laurent Fignon in 1989. His shoes, his tyres - the lot. He does his homework on every aspect of cycling.

"When some kids ran to the park after school to play football, Bradley used to run home and put cycling videos on. He is an encyclopedia of cycling and he is a very clever cookie, as well as being one of the best riders in the peloton technically too.

"Going back to the first day of the Tour, tactically he has got it right. There are still gains for him to be made - for example, how many times has he been in race situations like he was on the last day in the Alps with those five climbs? But he knows now what he doubted before."

And what can he do with that knowledge? Whether or not Wiggins is one of the British riders to join Sutton at Team Sky, as has been widely speculated, can he remain a challenger in the Tour's general classification?

"He will sustain it, you can be sure of that," says Sutton, confidently.

"Some years ago, I remember Bradley walking off the boards in Munich, taking his mittens off and saying to me 'I was born to do this'.

"That still rings in my ears, and it's true.

"Bradley will continue to be a challenger in the Tour because he is a big-time player who likes a big show and the Tour is the biggest show in the world in cycling.

"He will want to come back next year and show everyone this wasn't a one-off. I expect him to be a contender for many years to come."

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see also
Contador seals 2009 Tour victory
26 Jul 09 |  Cycling
Tour de France final weekend photos
26 Jul 09 |  Cycling
Brave Wiggins holds on to fourth
25 Jul 09 |  Cycling
Wiggins may quit track for Tour
20 Jul 09 |  Cycling
Wiggins boosts Tour podium hopes
23 Jul 09 |  Cycling
I'm going to win the Tour - Wiggins
04 Jul 09 |  Cycling
Cavendish joins British Tour legends
27 Jul 09 |  Cycling
Bradley Wiggins
01 Jul 09 |  Cycling
Cavendish and Wiggins win stages
02 Apr 09 |  Cycling
Team GB's revolutionary success
30 Mar 08 |  Cycling
Wiggins makes new madison pairing
22 Oct 08 |  Cycling
Superb Wiggins grabs pursuit gold
16 Aug 08 |  Cycling
Understanding the Tour de France
03 Jul 09 |  Cycling
Cycling on the BBC
18 Feb 11 |  Cycling

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