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Bradley Wiggins and his iconic memorabilia collection

In-depth
9 Jul 2020
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In 2018, Cyclist visited Bradley Wiggins and his extensive collection of cycling memorabilia for an exclusive feature

This article was originally published in Issue 81 of Cyclist Magazine

Words Joe Robinson Photography Mike Massaro

'The only other sportsperson I’m aware of who has a similar collection to me is Roger Federer with his tennis memorabilia, but there is no one else with something like this in cycling,’ says Bradley Wiggins as he neatly folds Fausto Coppi’s 1949 Tour de France yellow jersey back into a plastic container.

It sits next to Jacques Anquetil’s France Ford Hutchinson jersey from the 1966 Tour and Francesco Moser’s Supermercati Brianzoli skinsuit.

Considering the controversy that has surrounded him over the past 18 months, it would be easy to understand if Wiggins no longer wanted to talk about cycling, but his enthusiasm for the sport remains undiminished. At heart he’s still just a fan.

Wiggins has invited Cyclist for an exclusive look through his collection of famous jerseys and bikes that he keeps safely stored in a lock-up in Lancashire.

As he pulls out item after item, he relates the stories behind them and how he came to own them.

We have long over-shot our allotted time, but Wiggins is on a roll, enthusing about his collection, which he believes is the largest of its kind in the world.

‘I have a book coming out about it, called Icons. It’s there to pay homage really and thank these riders,’ he says.

Many of the jerseys that Wiggins reveals are yellow. This, he says, is not simply because he is himself a Tour de France champion, but because he has been entrusted with protecting the memories and heritage of the sport that made him famous.

‘I’m part of a special club,’ Wiggins says. ‘Only 68 riders have won the Tour, which isn’t that many when you think about it.

‘It allows me access to these things that I otherwise wouldn’t have. Like recently this lady got in touch with me.

‘It turns out Tom Simpson had been best man at her dad’s wedding and she had the bowler hat he wore on the day. She wanted to give it to me because she knew I’d look after it.’

Wiggins sees himself as a custodian of cycling’s past, and not just of legends such as Merckx, Coppi and Armstrong, but also of lesser-known names such as Phil Edwards, Jose Manuel Fuente and Hugo Koblet.

‘That’s Gastone Nencini’s yellow jersey from the 1960 Tour. Not many people would even know who he is. He’s famous for lighting a fag on the Champs-Élysées after winning that Tour.

‘His son found out that I was in possession of his father’s jersey and contacted me crying, relieved that it was in good hands,’ Wiggins says. ‘I feel like a guardian.’

Miguel Indurain's Tour de Romandie Pinarello time-trial bike

‘When I was between the ages of 11 and 15, Miguel Indurain won every Tour. Every summer, I watched him dominate the race,’ says Wiggins.

Some may find the metronomic style of ‘Big Mig’ less glamorous than that of riders more known for their flair and panache, but not Wiggins, who shares several similarities with the most dominant cyclist of the 1990s.

‘Like me, he won the Olympic gold in the time-trial and both of us have broken the Hour record. He even came to watch me at my Hour attempt, which was a special moment.

‘Mig keeps all of his own stuff. He still has all of his Tour and Giro bikes and his Hour record bike. Only one or two are in the hands of others. I had to buy this off a Spanish guy and it was tough to come by, but I’m so proud to own it.

‘It’s from his time-trial victory at the 1992 Tour de Romandie, which means a lot as it’s a race I also managed to win in my career.

‘This bike came just after the LeMond era introduced dedicated aero bars, and you’ll notice he rode 180mm cranks, which Campagnolo had to make especially for him. The bike was ahead of its time.’ 

Fausto Coppi's 1949 Tour de France yellow jersey

‘Elvis Presley was huge in the 1950s and Fausto Coppi was the same in the 40s. He rode in a time before live television and social media, but when he came to town everybody would go out to catch a glimpse of him in yellow or pink. Somehow, they knew Fausto was coming.’

Wiggins is pretty clear in his opinion of Coppi. For him, no rider was ever as stylish. For him, Coppi is the biggest name in the sport.

The legend is partly enhanced by the Italian’s tragic death at the age of just 40, leading Wiggins to liken him to Jimi Hendrix and James Dean, but also by the myth that surrounds the period in which he rode.

‘It’s difficult to comprehend how tough cycling was in his era,’ says Wiggins. ‘The penultimate stage of the 1949 Tour was a 150km individual time-trial on the Saturday.

‘Then, to finish the race, they had a 350km stage from Nancy to Paris.’

This was Coppi’s first Tour victory. He beat compatriot and rival Gino Bartali by more than 10 minutes, winning three stages en route. Having won the Giro d’Italia earlier that year, Coppi also became the first rider to ever manage the Giro/Tour double.

Sean Yates' 1994 Tour de France yellow jersey

‘If I was forced into giving up my collection, the Yates yellow jersey would be the one thing I’d keep,’ says Wiggins.

Stage 7 of the 1994 Tour de France was the only day in Sean Yates’ career that he got to wear cycling’s most famous jersey. He lost it again the next day to another of Wiggins’s heroes, Johan Museeuw. But that was enough for Wiggins to become star-struck.

‘I was 14 years old when Yates wore yellow. That same year the Tour headed through Yates’ hometown in the Ashdown Forest and they let him off the front so he could stop and hug his family.

‘I saw this Brit on telly with his hooped earring and he had this hard man reputation. I just loved him to bits.’

Wiggins even went to the extent of piercing his own ear that summer to emulate his idol. The love affair went one step further in 2012. When Wiggins made British history by winning the Tour, it was Yates who sat in the team car behind as Team Sky’s directeur sportif.

However, despite this close bond, adding his hero’s jersey to the collection was not as straightforward as you might expect:

‘I asked Sean if I could have his yellow jersey and he said no. Eventually I got it off of him, but only after paying for it.’ 

Bradley Wiggins' 2016 Six Days of Ghent Pinarello MAAT

Among piles and piles of jerseys belonging to other riders, and tucked behind a BMC Teammachine that guided Philippe Gilbert to one of his four Amstel Gold Classic titles, is one of the few items in the collection from Wiggins’ own career.

‘This is the bike from my last ever race. It was the Six Days of Ghent in 2016. I was born there and spent much of my childhood at that track watching my dad race so I knew this was where I wanted to end it,’ Wiggins remembers.

To Wiggins, the claustrophobic track of Ghent holds an atmosphere that very few venues in sport, let alone cycling, can contest with.

‘It’s like Anfield. It’s so small and hasn’t been changed much since it was first built. The track’s only 166m long, tiny compared to London or Manchester.

‘The venue has history woven into its fabric.’ The perfect place to call time on a career. ‘I got to race it with Mark [Cavendish], and we were World Champions at the time. We won and became the first combination of Tour yellow and green jersey winners since Merckx and [Patrick] Sercu to take Ghent.

‘Merckx’s last victory was also in the Six Days. To do that – yeah, it was special.’

Franco Ballerini's 1994 Colnago Titanio Bittan

'Colnago was the biggest bike manufacturer in the world in the 1990s,’ says Wiggins. ‘Today, everybody wants to own a Pinarello because of Sky, or a Specialized because of Peter Sagan, but 25 years ago everyone wanted to own a Colnago. They were the best bikes you could get.’

This particular bike was double Paris-Roubaix winner Franco Ballerini’s 1994 Colnago Titanio Bittan, named after its distinctive titanium frame with a split down tube.

It was a bike that also piloted Tony Rominger to a Vuelta a España title and Abraham Olano to the 1995 World Championships road race crown.

This was all achieved by Mapei, a team that ruled the landscape of professional cycling in the 1990s. The squad was composed of talented Italians, Spaniards and Belgians and at one point almost counted one plucky young Brit among its roster of superstars.

‘You know, I could have raced for Mapei when I was 19. Their manager Marc Sargeant offered me a contract at the 1999 World Championships when I was racing as a junior.

‘They also signed Fabian Cancellara, Pippo Pozzatto and Bernie Eisel at that Worlds,’ recalls Wiggins.

‘I turned them down because they were not going to let me race at the Olympics, and said I had to focus fully on the road. Could have been a lot different if I’d signed.’ 

Tom Simpson's 1966 World Champion's jersey

‘Others may feel differently, but I personally feel as if I owe a lot to Tom Simpson. If it wasn’t for what he did, I wouldn’t have achieved what I have done.’

Simpson blazed a trail for British cycling back in the 1960s. He beat the Belgians in Belgium to claim Britain’s only success to date in the Tour of Flanders before taking on the Italians in Italy to win Milan-San Remo and Il Lombardia.

Then in 1965, he became Britain’s first-ever road race World Champion. Less than two years later he would die on the slopes of Mont Ventoux while racing the 1967 Tour de France.

Forty-two years on, in 2009, Wiggins found himself at the scene of this tragedy, fighting an almost identical cause.

‘It was the first time in my career I had ridden for the General Classification at the Tour. We were heading up Ventoux so I asked for a picture of him on my top tube.

That day, I was fighting for a similar position on GC as he had the day he died and I feel that he gave me what I needed to reach the summit.’

Three years later, Wiggins achieved something Simpson never did, becoming the first British rider to win the Tour.

Shortly after his victory, Simpson’s daughter contacted Wiggins to tell him that she had visited her father’s grave with a picture of Wiggins in yellow, in Paris, to show him someone had done what he had died trying to do.

Bradley Wiggins' 2014 Paris-Roubaix Pinarello Dogma K

With 6km remaining of the 2014 Paris-Roubaix, Dutchman Niki Terpstra attacked out of a group that included Fabian Cancellara, Peter Sagan, John Degenkolb, Tom Boonen, Geraint Thomas and Wiggins to win the race and take home the coveted cobble trophy.

Any of those riders were potentially strong enough to have closed him down, but none of them did. Even Wiggins isn’t sure why.

‘I know, it’s the one that got away. I was strong enough to go with him but I hesitated,’ he admits.

‘I had the legs, even after Geraint and I raced back across to that lead group with Tom [Boonen].’

That year in 2014 was the closest Wiggins ever came to winning Paris-Roubaix. The next year he would manage just 18th, and he plainly has a pang of regret that he left it so late in his career to target that race.

‘Still, it was quite some group to come into the velodrome with. Five of the top 10 that day have won Paris-Roubaix so it was quite some company to be in.’

Lance Armstrong's 1995 Tour de France Motorola jersey

‘About two years ago Lance Armstrong got in contact with me and asked if I wanted a load of his old jerseys,’ Wiggins says, pointing to a box filled to the brim with Lycra and polyester jerseys.

A quick glimpse shows a few Tour yellows, an American national champs strip and even a World Champs jersey. One of the jerseys is not folded in the box, however, but is instead framed.

‘In 1995, Fabio Casartelli died tragically at the Tour de France descending the Portet d’Aspet. Three days later, Armstrong, who was Casartelli’s teammate, and maybe even his roommate, won the stage into Limoges. This was the jersey he wore that day.’

Just above the rainbow bands, a small square of black cloth is attached to the left arm, commemorating the events of just 72 hours previous.

This jersey was also from a time in the Lance Armstrong timeline before US Postal, before cancer survival, before seven consecutive Tour victories and before the doping scandal. Although that’s of little concern to Wiggins.

‘Between 1993 and 2010, Armstrong won so much and I wasn’t sitting there as a teen thinking, “Is this guy cheating?”

‘I will never forget the guy who didn’t give a shit, jumping the likes of Indurain and Museeuw to the world title. These memories will not be taken away from me.’

Eddy Merckx's 1972 Tour de France yellow jersey

With so many fakes out there, how do you prove that your Merckx yellow jersey is genuine? The answer is to ask his wife.

‘Back then, they would hand-stitch the team logo onto the leader’s jersey. Eddy would have his wife, Claudine, do it for him and she had a particular way of stitching,’ Wiggins says. ‘She can tell if it was her work and she verified for me that it was. I even have a video as proof.’

In 1972 Merckx was at the peak of his powers, and it was arguably his greatest year. He took the Tour/Giro double as well as Milan-San Remo, Liège-Bastogne-Liège and Il Lombardia.

It was also the year in which he took the Hour record. So a yellow jersey from this year is a particular vintage.

Or as Wiggins puts it, ‘Owning a Merckx ’72 yellow is like owning a Pele shirt from the 1970 World Cup final.’ Victory in 1972 also helps play to a theory that Wiggins has been working on.

‘So I worked out that every 10 years somebody incredible wins the Tour, and it just so happens to be on years that end with a two.

‘So, 1952 was Coppi; ’62 was Anquetil; ’72 Merckx; ’82 Hinault; ’92 Indurain; and ’02 was Lance. And then in 2012, me.’

• Icons: My Inspiration. My Motivation. My Obsession by Bradley Wiggins is published by HarperCollins, priced £25 hardback and is available now from the Cyclist Shop