Sir Bradley Wiggins announces retirement from professional cycling in underwhelming finish to garlanded career
By Tom Cary, Cycling Correspondent for The Telegraph
28 December 2016 • 8:31pm
Sir Bradley Wiggins officially announced his retirement from professional cycling yesterday, posting a message on his Facebook account thanking the British public for their “support and love through thick and thin” alongside a picture of all the trophies and winners jerseys he amassed in his garlanded career.
But the overriding impression on a day which ought to have been – and six months ago would have been – one purely of celebration for one of Britain’s greatest and best-loved sportsmen was instead one of unease at how to celebrate his career given the controversies of the past few months.
Wiggins, 36, was one of the GB athletes whose medical records were leaked by the Russian hackers group Fancy Bears back in September. The leak revealed the five-time Olympic champion’s legal use of the corticosteroid triamcinolone prior to three of the biggest races of his career, including his historic 2012 Tour de France win, and drew widespread criticism. Although the treatments were all above board, having been recommended by an ear, nose and throat specialist to treat asthma-induced hay fever, and were all signed off by the appropriate authorities – Wiggins was granted therapeutic use exemptions to use drugs which would otherwise have been banned – doubts persist as to how ill Wiggins really was, and whether the intramuscular injections he received were within the spirit of the rules.
Wiggins has simultaneously been caught up in a UK Anti-Doping investigation surrounding a medical package that was flown out to him on the final day of the 2011 Críterium du Dauphiné, which he won for Team Sky. Sir Dave Brailsford, Team Sky’s principal, told a parliamentary select committee last week that the medicine in the package was Fluimucil, a harmless decongestant. However, nearly three months after the investigation began, UKAD has still not managed to verify this.
The Times and Daily Mail reported on Wednesday night that MPs have now seen the travel documents and credit card details of Simon Cope, the British Cycling coach who had couriered the package from British Cycling’s base in Manchester to Wiggins – which is understood to have taken four days. Damian Collins MP, the chairman of the select committee, told The Times: “If this medicine was needed urgently it would have been much quicker to buy it in France.”
For many, the controversies have already tarnished Wiggins’s achievements, while others will be satisfied only by an unambiguous clean bill of health from UKAD.
Either way, it has been a hugely underwhelming finish for a rider and a character who arguably did more than any other to drive the cycling boom in this country. With his deadpan quips, his trademark sideburns and his mod fashion sense, Wiggins was pure box office. He could delight a room full of journalists in English or French, and frequently did. It is easy to forget now how big Wiggomania was in 2012.
Born in Belgium in 1980 Wiggins had a fascinating – and dark – back story. His relationship with his father, a heavy-drinking Australian cyclist who abandoned him and his mother after they returned to London for Christmas in 1982, and who ended up dying tragically in 2008, beaten up and left for dead in a street in New South Wales, informed his entire career.
He was also incredibly successful across a wide range of distances and disciplines; Britain’s most decorated Olympian of all time, the only man to win world and Olympic titles on both track and road, the first Briton to win the Tour de France. He also finished in the top 10 at Paris-Roubaix and is the holder of the hour record.
“We talk about accolades and they will be coming thick and fast I’m sure, but when I look at this guy I don’t just see the greatest cyclist of all time, I see probably the greatest athlete of all time,” Shane Sutton, his former coach, told Sky Sports yesterday.
Bob Howden, British Cycling’s president, added: “He retires as one of British sport’s great champions, not just for the medals and the sheer diversity of races he won but also for the way in which he used his achievements to inspire so many people to become active by getting on their bikes. British Cycling has much to thank him for and we wish him success with his future plans.”
It was notable, however, how few spoke up for Wiggins yesterday, relatively speaking. Partly that may have been because of the timing of his announcement – right in the middle of the holiday period – and partly because Wiggins had long ago flagged up his intention to retire at the end of the season. This was not a surprise, albeit he had hinted in recent weeks at continuing to do bits and bobs next season. The doubt persists, however, that many are still waiting to decide how to view his brilliant career.
As it stands, Wiggins’s intention would appear to be to continue to build his eponymous road team, while growing his commercial interests, including his own range of bikes. “I have been lucky enough to live a dream and fulfil my childhood aspiration of making a living and a career out of the sport I fell in love with at the age of 12,” he wrote in his statement. “I’ve met my idols and ridden with and alongside the best for 20 years. I have worked with the world’s best coaches and managers, who I will always be grateful to for their support.
“What will stick with me forever is the support and love from the public through thick and thin, all as a result of riding a pushbike for a living. 2012 blew my mind and was a gas. Cycling has given me everything and I couldn’t have done it without the support of my wonderful wife Cath and our amazing kids. 2016 is the end of the road for this chapter, onwards and upwards, ‘feet on the ground, head in the clouds’ kids from Kilburn don’t win Olympic Golds and Tour de Frances! They do now.”
(Article accredited to Tom Cary, Cycling Correspondent for The Telegraph (http://www.telegraph.co.uk ))