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Gallery: Bradley Wiggins falls short at Indoor Rowing Champs

Ben Tufnell
10 Dec 2017

Doubts about Wiggins's ambitions for a 2020 Olympic rowing spot as his 2,000m time places him outside junior podium

It was in June 2017 that Sir Bradley Wiggins publicly revealed his plans to try his hand at rowing and perhaps pursue a spot on the GB rowing team for Tokyo 2020.

Could he do it? Would he prove the doubters wrong and show himself as a genuine contender for the GB rowing team come Tokyo? 

Some, including two-time Olympic rowing gold medallist James Cracknell thought he might just have a chance. 

And so after six months of intense speculation came the day of reckoning and Wiggin’s first competitive rowing debut at the British indoor championships today, held fittingly at the London Olympic velodrome.

The result

The result? A non-performance.  

Frustratingly, we remain none the wiser to what his true potential might have been. Coach and mentor to Wiggins, double Olympic rowing gold medallist James Cracknell said prior to the event that he believed Wiggins was capable of between 6:01 and 6:05.

Under six minutes is generally considered a benchmark for aspiring heavyweight internationals, with the strongest going close to 5:40.0.

Entering the arena today, there was no bravado as a significantly beefed up Wiggins (now weighing close to 100kgs) approached the rowing machine to the biggest cheers of the day. Head down and subdued, he almost looked nervous. 

Thirty strokes in Wiggins, showing decent rhythm and technique, was maintaining around the 6:05 pace Cracknell had predicted, placing him roughly in the top ten.

In the noise and confusion however it seems Wiggins must have mis-heard the announcer calling a false start elsewhere on the floor, not intended for him. 

Backing off for a stroke about 200m in before realising and getting back on to his rhythym, it seemed enough to throw him off for the rest of the piece.

While the inadvertent pause for a stroke should have only cost him a second or so at most, Wiggins’ pace gradually faded as it became clear his heart was no longer in it, and he did not attempt any sort of sprint at the finish. This was perhaps where his inexperience showed.

The '2K' test can be as much mental as it is intensely physical and a more seasoned rower may have been abe to put the momentary wobble behind them and still put in a decent time. As it was, Wiggins, finished 20 seconds behind his target.

Finishing in 6.22.5 - a time that wouldn’t place him on the podium in the junior category let alone open heavyweight - an obviously frustrated Wiggins simply shook his head and swiftly exited the arena having clearly not fully exerted himself.

Ultimately Wiggins placed 21st out of 99 entrants, which for a first attempt is not bad. However many top GB athletes were absent and he was over thirty seconds behind winner Adam Neil of the GB Rowing team who managed 5:48.2.

That's a significant gap in a six minute race.

So what does it all mean for Wiggins's fledgling rowing career? There has been an air of mystery to the entire project, and with a dejected Wiggins declining to comment post race we wondered whether his rowing career was already at an end.

However he later commented on instagram that he would return next year '12 months stronger' so the dream isn't over for now.

However, for Tokyo 2020, all bets are very much off. There's clearly a lot to learn for the five time Olympic gold medallist as he adapts to a new sport.

He has a lot of ground to make up to make the standard physiologically, before we even consider the technical demands of the sport.

Ben Tufnell is an ex-international rower and editor of Row360 magazine, and a keen cyclist