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One for the road: Team Wiggins profile

Josh Cunningham
4 Nov 2016

Cyclist discovers what comes next for Bradley Wiggins as the figurehead of his ongoing development project, Team Wiggins.

The racing career of Sir Bradley Wiggins is a difficult one to top. Tour de France champion, winner of eight Olympic medals, current Hour record holder – these are just some of the achievements and titles that make ‘Sir Brad’ arguably one of the most distinguished cyclists of all time. And despite the current furore surrounding the man and his history of TUE certificates, few could deny that the vehicle employed to enable his ongoing contribution to the sport – the eponymous Team Wiggins – is a positive one.

‘I wanted [Team] Wiggins to make us all remember why we fell in love with the sport,’says Bradley Wiggins as he recounts to Cyclist the origins of the team set up in his name at the end of 2014. ‘I wanted the team to become a point of inspiration for both young, ambitious riders and fans alike – a team that anyone can identify with whether they’re a hardcore cycling fan or someone on the fringes. It’s about having fun, riding hard and enjoying the journey.

‘It began as a small idea for five or six guys in the team pursuit squad to have a team to facilitate everything we needed to win gold in Rio, but it quickly became much more than that. We realised that the team could become this great platform for young riders, whether their ambitions are on the road or the track, providing them with an environment where they can express themselves and grow in confidence.’

And so a group of people got together, worked out the logisitics, and in early 2015 Team Wiggins was unveiled to the world as the place where Bradley Wiggins would end his career, and where Under-23 riders could aspire towards the professional ranks in an environment with evident benefits for all concerned. But for a young rider, potentially fresh out of the junior ranks and with only minimal experience, what must it be like to be drafted into the same roster as a name like Sir Bradley Wiggins?

‘Sure, it takes them a while to get used to the fact that they are in the same team as Brad,’ says the team’s general manager, Andrew McQuaid. ‘Take the Tour of Britain in 2015, for example, when Brad was leading out Owain [Doull] on every stage, and Owain was having to pinch himself every day, like: “Jesus Christ, this is Brad Wiggins here leading me out.”’

Cyclist puts the anecdote to Doull himself, and discovers that the 23-year-old Welshman remembers it well: ‘Those sprint finishes are pretty hairy, and Brad was right there in the thick of it. His goal was to go to Rio and win gold at the Olympics, and there he was willing to crash for me, shoulder-barging with Mark Renshaw with a kilometre to go. When you’ve got someone of Brad’s calibre leading you out, and they’re backing you that much, you do feel the pressure a bit.’

Not that the pressure seemed to affect him adversely, with Doull having finished third overall and winning the points jersey. ‘He performed above and beyond what he might have done if it were anyone else,’ says McQuaid.

‘Being part of the team you pick up snippets here and there all the time,’ Doull adds, ‘but the main thing I learned from being on Team Wiggins and observing what Brad does was realising that when he defines something as his goal, everything he does is geared towards that one goal. He has one objective, then works back from it – two hundred days out, one hundred days out, and so on – gearing everything towards that one thing.

‘I think “surreal” is the only way of describing what it’s like to race in the same team as Brad,’ he adds. ‘You grow up with a picture of him on your bedroom wall, and then all of a sudden you’re sharing a bedroom and pulling on a jersey with him. I still look up to him now as my hero, to be honest, so it’s kind of odd to have an idol that you then go through so much together with – from winning the Olympics to going out on the piss. It’s still a bit of a weird one. People say you shouldn’t meet your heroes, but that’s definitely not the case with Brad.’

And what of Wiggins himself? What does he get out of being that figurehead to whom the others look up to and aspire to be? 

‘For me, I suppose the team has given me a way to express myself in the sport again,’ Wiggins says. ‘It fills me with pride seeing the guys race with my name on the jersey, and even just being in the team camper alongside them and having fun has done a lot for me. It helped me go after that Olympic gold.’

More than a team

The objectives of Team Wiggins have transformed and multiplied over time, going from simply creating a controllable environment in which the Team GB pursUit squad could prepare for the Olympics to being a development team nurturing a broad cross-section of young talent, and now finally into a much bigger socio-sporting project altogether. And, typically for Wiggins, that includes style and fashion. 

‘I’ve always been interested in style, both on and off the bike,’ he says. ‘I still remember all those iconic jerseys of the past that used to adorn my bedroom walls, and when the opportunity came to design my own jersey it was like a schoolboy dream.

‘The guys at Rapha, who I’d got to know while I was at Team Sky, were the obvious choice,’ he says of the brand behind the instantly recognisable Wiggins kit design. ‘I love where their heads are at when it comes to design and we work closely together on each kit. We took the colours from the old Great Britain jerseys that Tom Simpson used to race in, then the gold is a nod towards the Olympic ambition, and we adopted the roundel and made it our own – it’s beautiful.’

‘There was no bullshit with Brad,’ says Rapha designer Ultan Coyle. ‘He got it straight away. We looked at the Great Britain national team kits over the years and felt the simple blue body with red sleeves from the 1970s and 80s was the best fit. The team had three distinct characteristics – Brad, GB and Rio – so we blended references to each of them into the design. Then you have details like the chainmail print, derived from the union flag, and the little flicks on the ‘G’s in the logo. I like those – they bring a little speed.’

‘As a rider you want to feel good on your bike, and most riders will tell you that their kit and the style is a big part of that,’ adds Wiggins. ‘You want to look classy on your bike and I believe taking pride in your appearance converts into how you ride.’

Life after racing

There’s little doubt that Rio 2016 and ambitions of gold in the team pursuit were a key part of the team’s inception for all involved. Indeed, three of the four riders who competed in the final – Wiggins, Doull and Steven Burke – ride for Team Wiggins (although Doull is off to Team Sky next year). But now that the Games are over, what is to become of the team that made that ending possible?

 ‘Now we’re post-Rio it has altered,’ says McQuaid, ‘but we all want to kick on and keep the thing going. Brad will continue as patron of the team after he’s permanently retired [supposedly after the Ghent Six Day in November], and next year I think he’s genuinely looking forward to turning up to races like the Under-23 Roubaix and Under-23 Liege, offering whatever advice he can and just being there to support the guys as an active member of staff.’

‘The track programme has meant I haven’t spent as much time with the team as I’d have liked,’ says Wiggins of his time post-Sky so far, ‘but in some ways that’s been beneficial because the guys have been able to make their mark and make the team their own. As I switch from a rider to more of a leadership role at Team Wiggins I’ll be able to really throw myself into it and carefully consider how we can develop these youngsters.’

If some things at Team Wiggins are evolving, what are the constants Wiggins will look to maintain regardless of short-term objectives, team rosters and what the kit looks like?

‘It must always have enjoyment at the heart of it,’ maintains Wiggins. ‘That’s how I believe we’ll get the best out of the riders and how they will develop as racers and as people. We’ve had great success stories already, with Olympic gold medals and World Championships titles, and a couple of the guys are already moving into the pro ranks. But really the way the team and the staff have come together and the way we’ve captured imaginations is just as important – and that is down to the character of the team. 

‘This is not about winning the Tour de France and being a hard-nosed performance-only team – there are enough of those in the peloton already,’ he adds. ‘Yes, we want to win bike races, and with the talent and ambition within our team we will. But I want our guys to enjoy the ride too.’

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