Nick Westby: Sir Bradley Wiggins – the trailblazer who led British cycling into an unprecedented era of dominance

Sir Bradley Wiggins has announced his retirement from professional cycling in a statement. (Picture: David Davies/PA Wire)
Sir Bradley Wiggins has announced his retirement from professional cycling in a statement. (Picture: David Davies/PA Wire)
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Sir Bradley Wiggins has called time on one of the most glorious careers in British sport.

The ‘kid from Kilburn’ as he referred to himself in his retirement post on Instagram on Wednesday, has been at the vanguard of an historic era of dominance for British cycling.

Sir Bradley Wiggins passes through Micklegate Bar in York, during the 2015 Tour de Yorkshire between Selby and York.

Sir Bradley Wiggins passes through Micklegate Bar in York, during the 2015 Tour de Yorkshire between Selby and York.

He was a trailblazer who beat down negative stereotypes about cycling and broke new ground for the sport in this country.

The 36-year-old retires as this country’s most decorated Olympian, with the gold medal he won in the team pursuit in Rio this summer the fifth title of his career to add to a silver and two bronze medals.

In the summer of 2012, Wiggins was British sport’s biggest name – a previously unprecedented status for a cyclist – having won his fourth Olympic gold in London just weeks after becoming his nation’s first winner of the Tour de France.

He had the public persona of a big kid who just loved riding his bike, mixing a goofiness on camera with an unparalleled will to win on the track.

Great Britain's Bradley Wiggins of Sky Pro Racing (yellow jersey), rides with team mates Mark Cavendish (right), Chris Froome (left) and Bernhard Eisel (second left). Not only did Wiggins deliver a first British Tour de France victory, but he did so with elan. (Picture: PA Wire)

Great Britain's Bradley Wiggins of Sky Pro Racing (yellow jersey), rides with team mates Mark Cavendish (right), Chris Froome (left) and Bernhard Eisel (second left). Not only did Wiggins deliver a first British Tour de France victory, but he did so with elan. (Picture: PA Wire)

He made cycling cool, and Yorkshire bought into that notion more than anywhere else, capitalising on the upsurge in interest by bringing the Grand Départ of the 2014 Tour de France to the region. It was an ironic twist that he was not selected to represent Team Sky and was denied the chance to line up in front of an estimated five million people over the two days – many of whom had been introduced to cycling, either as fans or participants, by his ground-breaking exploits.

By that stage, the Tour pioneer knew he had to look at other challenges to motivate himself – setting up a development road team, breaking the hour record and going for one last swansong in Rio.

In interviews he could be infectious and erudite, as he was on the eve of the first of his two Tour de Yorkshire appearances in 2015 when he serenaded fans and media in York with a charm offensive befitting the headline act.

His last race – and win – came last month at the Ghent Six Day, where it had all begun for the Belgian-born son of an Australian cyclist. While the race completed the circle of his career, the curtain comes down amid question marks about the validity of some of his achievements.

Controversy was introduced to the perfect story by September’s revelation that Wiggins received three therapeutic use exemptions for an otherwise banned substance ahead of three Grand Tours, including the 2012 Tour de France which he won for Team Sky. Wiggins and Team Sky principal Sir Dave Brailsford insist the use of triamcinolone was medically necessary to deal with a pollen allergy which aggravates his long-standing asthma and the TUEs were approved by the UCI, cycling’s world governing body.

For some the TUE revelations mean the best of Wiggins’ varied achievements should come with an asterisk; yet no rules were broken. A quick scan down the same Instagram page in which he announced his retirement reveals he does not either appreciate –or respect – the seriousness of the issue and the extent of public doubt. The post reads “They can never take my package!!” in reference to the jiffy bag transported into France, the contents of which sparked a parliamentary commission.

While his retirement was expected, the doubt that has been cast over one of Britain’s greatest sporting careers is a sad footnote.

British Cycling’s President, Bob Howden, said: “Few sportspeople have had the impact on life in this country as Sir Bradley Wiggins. He retires as one of British sport’s great champions.”

Wiggins’ retirement statement

“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. I’ve met my idols and ridden with the best for 20 years. I have worked with the world’s best coaches.

“What will stick with me forever is the support and love from the public though thick and thin, all as a result of riding a pushbike for a living. 2012 blew my mind and was a gas. 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.”