The countdown to the Olympic games continues apace and expected to be among our brightest hopes is sir Bradley Wiggins. Dominic Bliss takes up the story…
Over the last two years he has gradually increased his body weight by over 11kgs. It’s all part of his tilt at Olympic glory on the velodrome track at the Rio Olympics in August.
“We’re working hard. We’re in the gym three or four times a week. I’m trying to put a lot of weight on at the moment to cope with the demands of the track,” the 36-year-old told The Cycling Podcast recently. “Just in that day in, day out, mundane training phase now. Track and gym predominantly at the moment, which is a lot different to what I’ve been used to in the past.”
Wiggins says the switch from road to track – with the ultimate aim being an eighth Olympic medal for his bulging trophy cabinet – has reinvigorated him. And he’s obviously enjoying training with the younger members of the new team he has established Team Wiggins.
“It’s like a new challenge again. I’m training with all these 21-yearolds at the track. It’s like it was getting ready for Sydney [the 2000 Olympics]. It’s been nice coming back into that environment and having a complete change of everything; refreshing. And that’s what’s kept the motivation and the hunger.”
Not wishing to help rival nations in any way, Wiggins and teammates are keeping the finer details of their training schedule under wraps. Traditionally, however, track cyclists train around 20 hours over six days a week, focusing on track and gym sessions, with a little bit of road work, always looking to increase leg strength and cardiovascular endurance.
The final decision on which track event in Rio Wiggins competes in hasn’t yet been decided by British Cycling. But if he clinches an eighth medal, it will place him top of the British list of all-time Olympic medals, ahead of Sir Chris Hoy’s seven, and Sir Steve Redgrave’s six.
Recent form suggests he’s got a good chance. Last summer he set a new world record of 54.526kms in the UCI hour record, indicating afterwards that the high air pressure at London’s Olympic velodrome cost him 700 metres. Back in March this year, at the UCI Track Cycling World Championship, he then took silver in the team pursuit, and gold (with Mark Cavendish) in the madison.
“It was like The Smiths getting back for one last time, and to do a gig like that…” he said of the latter during which his Manx teammate had to recover from a crash with 11 laps to go. “It was like when the [Stone] Roses played at Heaton Park in 2012. Just amazing. Fantastic.”
Wiggins initially failed to notice his teammate had crashed. “I didn’t know he had fallen off,” he revealed afterwards. “I was like, ‘Cheeky little…. where is he?’ I kept looking for him thinking, ‘This has been a long turn’. I was out of it by then, foaming at the mouth for the last 10 laps.”
It may not have been the prettiest of performances but it showed that, in this Olympic year, both Wiggins and Cavendish have plenty of fire in their bellies.
Wiggins revealed recently how, despite Olympic success early in his career, he had felt enormous disappointment at the same time. At the Athens Olympics in 2004 he won gold in individual pursuit, silver in team pursuit, and bronze in madison. “At that age, when you’re a kid, you just want fame and money,” he told Kirsty Young on BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs. “You think that people are going to knock the door down, writing cheques out for a couple of million to you, and that didn’t happen, and we still couldn’t pay the mortgage. I had this incredible guilt that I was Olympic champion and that I wasn’t supporting the family. So I got a slight bit of depression about the whole thing, really. It didn’t live up to the expectation of what I assumed winning Olympic gold was going to be about.”
Twelve years and two Olympiads later, Wiggins seems to have fallen in love with cycling again. As he admits, his passion “kind of went away for a long time in the middle of my career, and I ended up despising the sport in many ways around ten years ago.” Then, with the 2012 Tour de France win under his belt (“I’d achieved more than I thought I was capable of achieving”), he started looking back on his career with nostalgia and emotion.
“I’ve gone the other way,” he says now of his revitalised self. He offers telling evidence, explaining how he metaphorically “wet his pants” when five-times Tour de France champion Eddy Merckx wrote him a hand-written letter. “I still get star-truck with it all,” he adds.
In fact he’s so exhilarated about cycling again that he’s even reconsidering his stated plans to retire at the end of 2016. Who knows? If he leaves Rio with an eighth Olympic medal, perhaps he’ll take his grip off the brakes and increase his cadence even further.