While other track riders are competing and chasing qualification points in the World Cup events, Wiggins is spending long hours in the British Cycling gym in the bowels of the Manchester velodrome, working to add extra muscle, with the aim of being 16kg heavier and a lot stronger than when he won the 2012 Tour de France.
In a long interview with the Sunday Times newspaper, Wiggins recalled growing up as a boy in a working class part of London who was blindly in love with cycling, despite often being bullied because he wore lycra. Now 35 and facing the final 12 months of his career before retiring after the Rio Olympics and perhaps a farewell ride at the Gent Six day, Wiggins insists he has not changed despite becoming a public figure in Britain for his results in cycling and his unique no-nonsense attitude.
“Success hasn’t changed me,” Wiggins said. “I drive a van, not a Ferrari. I have stayed in the same house. We don’t have a nanny or anything. If I am at home, I take the kids to school at eight in the morning. Then I go training and pick them up afterwards.”
“I quite like just being me. Just a working-class hero, if you like. Approachable. I like the fact that people see me in Tesco and say, ‘What are you doing in here?’ I’m like, ‘Same as you. Getting my two-for-one.’ I treat people in the same way, whether I am talking to the Queen or a volunteer at the Olympics.”
More relaxed and more conciliatory towards Froome
Wiggins is more relaxed as he focuses on the track. During the interview he recalled that trying to win the Tour de France with Team Sky became all-consuming. He suffered under the weight of expectation and criticism in 2011 before increasing his focus even more in 2012, the year when everything finally went perfectly and he won the Tour de France.
“I lived it 24/7. I was sleeping at home in an altitude tent in another room on my own. We used to go away to Tenerife and sit on top of a mountain for two weeks at a time, then come down for a week and do a race somewhere. I was so totally absorbed, day in, day out,” he said.
“Even in 2012, the focus didn’t flicker. I would win something massive like the Paris to Nice race, and we wouldn’t celebrate. It would be, ‘Keep your head; think of the bigger picture.’ It took incredible discipline. Even when I won the Dauphiné, there was no celebration. Our minds were still focused … on that one big target. It was all about winning the Tour.”
Wiggins and Chris Froome fell out at the 2012 Tour de France and bickered about team leadership at Sky in the following years. They are two very different people and are unlikely to rebuild their relationship. However Wiggins recently praised Froome for releasing some of his performance data and for putting up with the extreme scrutiny and pressure of winning the Tour de France.
“I can tell you it’s bloody hard to win the Tour de France, so Chris, the riders and all of them at Team Sky deserve the plaudits. They worked hard and I thought Chris especially did well dealing with the hostility out there on the road. He just batted it off and got on with the job. I respect that type of professionalism,” he said.
Adding 16kg for for Rio
Wiggins is clearly enjoying being back on the track and away from the expectations of Team Sky and the Tour de France. He is surrounded by young riders in both the Great Britain pursuit squad and his Wiggins team that uses road racing as preparation for the track. It makes him feel young again.
Wiggins is targeting a final gold medal –it would be his fifth gold in the team pursuit event.
“I did two Olympics, then I went away for seven years to do the road, so coming back is like being 19 again,” he explained. “This is a lot easier than the Tour de France. It is three minutes long and then it is over. There are fewer external variables, like wind and crashes. You are playing with fractions of a second. And I like that. It is quantifiable. It is like the hour record. If you do this power for this lap, for this given time, you will do this overall time.”
Wiggins lost significant weight to become competitive at the Tour de France. Now he is bulking up to add the extra strength and speed that is needed for modern day team pursuiting.
“In the gym, we are trying to build muscle. Bulk. Transforming us into sprinter hybrids,” he confirmed. “As important as nutrition was in the Tour de France in losing weight, this is about trying to gain weight, for me anyway. I crashed out at 69kg [10st 12lb] in 2011 and I am 79kg now. And after the European Championships I go into a two-month gym block at the velodrome, which has all been structured with nutrition, in order for me to gain 2 or 3kg of muscle. By the time I get to the Olympic Games, I am hoping to be 84 or 85kg, which is what I was in Beijing, before I went the other way for the Tour de France. So I will be 16kg heavier than when I won the Tour.”
Wiggins is changing his physique but has no intention of changing his often irascible but playful character. His sideburns have shortened with age but he is still proud of his achievements.
“All the things I do on TV, joking around, having a laugh, making light of things; that’s just my introvert character coming out. Hence the 2012 after-party at the Sports Personality show [when Wiggins jumped on stage and played the guitar]. I get into this manic-like performance mode. It is a coping mechanism. I have this split personality,” he explained.
“In a way, I like that fact that people underestimate me in terms of character. They think I am a bit of a joker who doesn’t really put the hard yards in. That probably gives me an edge.”
“We never see ourselves as celebrities or high and mighty. In Wigan where we live, it is about the Warriors [the rugby league team] and football. They are not bothered about me. I quite like that. I haven’t changed since 2012, and that is why people like you. I am a pretty normal person.”