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Book review: Icons by Sir Bradley Wiggins

24 Oct 2018

An intriguing blend of historical research, fanboy memoir and candid confession

Cyclist Rating: 
• Beautiful photographs • Entertaining confessions of a teenage cycling anorak
• The historical details don’t include much we don’t already know

After four successful and highly entertaining volumes of autobiography – In Pursuit of Glory, My Time, My Hour and On Tour - Sir Bradley Wiggins has turned his attention to this sumptuous volume of personal photos, gorgeous jerseys and historical detail.

It’s a strange hybrid of a book, ostensibly a celebration of 21 of Wiggins’s favourite riders but if you delve deeply between the photographs of Wiggins as a cute 12-year-old smiling nervously in front of world pursuit champion Tony Doyle, or his archive of beautiful, historic jerseys, you’ll come across some juicy little personal morsels.

The 21 'icons' range from the obvious – Eddie Merxck and Fausto Coppi – to the controversial – Lance Armstrong – and the obscure – Phil Edwards (1977 British road champion) and Gastone Nencini (1961 Tour de France winner).

Buy Icons by Sir Bradley Wiggins from Amazon here

The historic stuff about each of these riders – researched by Wiggins’s co-writer Herbie Sykes, best known for the excellent Maglia Rosa – is perfectly acceptable, but few diehard fans will learn anything new.

The best bits of the book are to be found in the cracks in between, when Wiggins draws parallels with his own life and career.

Nencini, for example, is only in the book because Wiggins loved the photograph of him having a quick fag after winning his only Tour, 'one of the coolest, most evocative cycling photos I’ve ever seen'.

Wiggins recognises similarities between his own career and that of the Italian rider – both were the star signings of rich, ambitious teams; both won the Tour just once – yet declines to mention the famous paparazzi shot of himself enjoying a fag outside a Mallorca bar following his 2012 Tour and Olympic triumphs.

Instead, there’s a curious section – this is a chapter ostensibly about a cigarette-smoking Italian rider from the 1960s, remember – when Wiggins launches into a reminder of the bitter episode from his 2012 Tour triumph when teammate Chris Froome almost upset his plans on the stage to La Toussuire.

Curious, because both Wiggins and Froome have dealt with the incident exhaustively in their respective autobiographies.

But just in case we’d forgotten, Wiggins now reminds us that Froome 'was never going to win that Tour de France and it wasn’t his job to try.'

Later on, the troubled, haunted life of Spanish rider Luis Ocana is the cue for Wiggins to reveal a little more about the toll success has taken on him and his family.

'Cycling made me famous, but I’m not entirely sure it made me better or more complete,' he writes. 'I would never say I wish I hadn’t won the Tour, but there have been times, particularly amid the media storm of 2018, when Cath and I have struggled with the effects of my having won it.'

Later on – still in the chapter about Ocana who ended up blowing his brains out at the age of 48 – Wiggins writes that neither he nor his wife are cut out for fame.

'We’re neither of us polished enough – we’re both flawed characters – and we have enough on our plates dealing with the day to day stuff,' he writes.

Moving on to the chapter about Jacques Anquetil, the historic data about the first five-times winner of the Tour is far less fascinating than the personal introspection it prompts within the author.

He describes himself as a 'one-hit wonder' who, like Jan Janssen and Jan Ullrich before him, became a household name for being the first from his country to win the Tour, adding: 'The three of us also became tabloid commodities, but that’s another matter entirely…'

For a man at the centre of the media storm surrounding 'Jiffygate', Wiggins appears deliberately provocative by including Lance Armstrong with the opening line: 'Look away now if you’re easily offended.'

Tellingly, the seven pages of photographs – mainly of various of Armstrong’s jerseys, including the signed maillot jaune he gifted to Wiggins after his fifth Tour success – outnumber the pages of text in this chapter.

Wiggins’s memories of riding – and fondness for - the Giro d'Italia are warm and self-effacing.

'I love the Giro much more than I ever loved the Tour,' he writes in the chapter about Spanish rider José Manuel Fuente who briefly wore a 'beautiful KAS maglia rosa' in the 1974 Giro.

Acknowledging that 'it was a pig’s ear pretty much every time I rode it', he struggles to come up with a reason for his spectacular failure at the 2013 edition when, despite being one of the favourites, he abandoned after a series of crashes, mechanicals and illness.

Writing that he felt 'sort of rudderless and a little bit lost' after achieving his Tour and Olympic goals the previous year, he reveals: 'Heading into the Giro, I think I was walking a tightrope mentally. I fell off it pretty spectacularly.'

Elsewhere, Wiggins is utterly charming as he recounts his teenage adoration of riders ranging from Flandrian hardman Johan Museeuw to British road champion Sean Yates.

He 'spent far more time than was probably healthy' admiring the poster of Yates on his bedroom wall: 'He was wearing an earring and I thought that was impossibly cool.'

His delight at tracking down historic jerseys or other memorabilia worn by his idols is palpable. He swapped one of his own rainbow jerseys for a 1993 Belgian tricolour from Johan Museeuw.

He received a signed neckerchief from Miguel Indurain. And he swapped his Hour Record skinsuit for Eddy Merckx’s 1976 Catalan Week leader’s jersey from a Belgian collector.

Buy Icons by Sir Bradley Wiggins from Amazon here

The photographs – of jerseys, of bikes, of his heroes in all their racing pomp and from the Wiggins family archive – are beautiful and lovely, as are his anecdotes about being a starstruck, ambitious teenager who wanted to look and dress like his idols, even if a shortage of funds once meant he had to improvise a pair of legwarmers from a pair of his mum’s tights.

The stories of the 'icons' that meant so much to Wiggins are all fine and good, but it’s the way he occasionally highlights similarities between his own and their lives – both professional and personal, good and dark sides – that will really make this book stand out from other cycling reference books on your bookshelf.

Icons, by Sir Bradley Wiggins, is published by HarperCollins on Thursday 1st November

Tickets for An Evening with Bradley Wiggins, a six-date tour of the UK starting on 12th November, are available from


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