Life begins at 40, so the saying goes, even for those of us who have accomplished more in their first four decades than most would achieve in three lifetimes.
Sir Bradley Wiggins shot to national stardom for his groundbreaking deeds on two wheels; the headlines of which are being Britain’s most decorated Olympian and the first from this country to have conquered the Tour de France.
Wiggins made cycling popular, made it cool.
Without him – without his mod haircut, sideburns and laidback attitude allied with an unrivalled will to win and flair for cycling – it is hard to imagine the boom in the sport happening at all.
Certainly to the extent of the UCI Road World Championships beginning in Yorkshire this weekend, the global cycling bonanza returning to Britain for the first time in 37 years.
Wiggins will be in the White Rose county this week in the capacity of interested spectator and entertainer, but as the wheels of his life turn towards 40, the self-styled Sir Wiggo is ready to head off in a new direction.
I’ll still work in cycling because I love it, but I don’t want to be just known as a cyclist for the rest of my life.Sir Bradley Wiggins
“I’m three years into retirement now and I’m completely detached from Sir Wiggo,” Wiggins tells The Yorkshire Post.
“I just want to do something else with my life, to challenge myself.
“I’ll still work in cycling because I love it, but I don’t want to be just known as a cyclist for the rest of my life.”
To that end, Wiggins is to take a degree in social work at the Open University in an attempt to make the second part of his working life more about other people than himself.
“For my own self-identity, my own self-worth, I want to help people, and use what I did in the sport to inspire others, especially youngsters,” says Wiggins. “Get re-educated and do it properly.
“I don’t consider myself a sportsman. I was a sportsman, one of the best in the world, but I don’t have an ego from it any more, I don’t live off it any more.
“It’s about being a good person for me now. I’m 40 next year. When people say life begins at 40 I would always be sceptical, what does that mean?
“But if this is what it means, then that’s for me.
“I’m passionate about helping young people who grew up in environments that they had no control over what that environment was, using the knighthood and the medals and all that for the greater good, instead of just trying to live off that celebrity and expecting people to know who you are.
“Obviously, the decision to do this has become national news, like most things, which I accept, but it’s not for PR or publicity, it’s for me.
“It’s to change the perception of what people think you are.”
That perception has been damaged somewhat in retirement after the Fancy Bears hackers revealed details of therapeutic use exemptions Wiggins was granted ahead of some of his biggest races, including the 2012 Tour, while an investigation into the contents of a jiffy bag delivered to the 2011 Critérium du Dauphiné for his use was inconclusive. Wiggins called the investigation a “malicious witch-hunt” at the time.
The episode has clearly left a sour taste in the mouth of a man who in 2012 was the darling of the media and the toast of a nation.
But it has not completely dimmed his love for the sport that made him, no matter how much he wants to distance his future self from former glories.
After a retirement spent searching for a new purpose – he even tried rowing but admits “it’s not something you can take up at 36 and learn and compete with the best” – Wiggins has time and again been drawn back to what he knows best.
Even before he stopped pedalling for a living, he had set up Team Wiggins, a professional development cycling team aimed at bringing young British cyclists through to World Tour level.
Wiggins Le Col, as they are now known, will fold at the end of this season, the involvement of the team’s public face having reduced over the years, but for him it is a ‘natural end’.
“I don’t have the time to invest in it now, but rather than mourn that, I want to celebrate what we have done,” he says of a team that helped two Yorkshiremen in Tom Pidcock and Gabz Cullaigh progress through the ranks into international prominence.
Wiggins has also been a regular on our screens this summer as a cycling commentator on Eurosport, bringing his own unique brand of analysis that involved riding the day’s route on a motorcycle.
“The only thing I know is cycling so being able to bring that to the public, it’s like my dream job,” he says.
A little closer to home, the five-time Olympic champion has been touring the country this month with his Bradley Wiggins: An Evening With tour, which is at the Harrogate Royal Hall on Monday to coincide with the town’s staging of the UCI Road World Championship.
“It’s not about me telling the story for my own ego, it’s about telling the story of who went before us,” says Wiggins.
“Cycling hasn’t always been like this, there hasn’t always been the platform.
“Some of the most talented riders this country has ever produced never got the opportunity the likes of myself, Geraint Thomas and Chris Froome had with Team Sky.
“Take Chris Walker, one of my heroes growing up, if he and Dave Rayner were around today in a team like Sky, they would have done the same as us, but at that time you had to go to France.
“Chris had a family so he chose to go and get a proper job.
“It’s unfortunate that their generation didn’t get the opportunities we did. Some riders will never know what that was like and will almost take it for granted.
“So I feel a duty to tell the story of what went before. It’s not that we were better than them. They were just as talented, if not more talented than us, it’s just we had the opportunities they never did.
“In the same way Lizzie Deignan can make a living out of cycling, to have a baby and then come back to competing, is phenomenal and a mark of how far women’s cycling has come when you think of where it was.
“It’s about telling that story, telling the history of cycling and our part in it, because without them we wouldn’t have a world championship in Yorkshire this month.
“I feel a duty to tell the story of the sport that I love that has given me everything in my life. It truly has been a saviour for me and also my one true passion.
“I want to send the audience away having learned something and to have maybe changed their perception of me.”
Even if Wiggins is ready to give that life another perception altogether.
‘Yorkshire has put cycling on the map’
Sir Bradley Wiggins jokes that he ‘needs a visa’ to get across the border from Lancashire to Yorkshire, but he is under no illusions as to the importance of the coming week on this side of the Pennines.
The county’s staging of the UCI Road World Championships over the next eight days is huge for Yorkshire, for cycling, and for British sport.
It is also just rewards for the role this county has played in giving the likes of Wiggins a platform on which to succeed.
“It’s been a long time since 1982,” says the 2014 world time-trial champion in reference to when Great Britain last staging the championships.
“But Yorkshire has put cycling on the map in this country with the Tour de France, the Tour de Yorkshire and everything that has happened since, and it’s a huge success.
“It’s a very cycling-centric county, home to world-class cyclist like Keith Lambert, Dave Rayner, Chris Walker, Malcolm Elliott.
“In modern times you’ve got Ben Swift, you’ve got Lizzie Deignan, so it’s just reward for not only how well British cycling has done, but in particular the Yorkshire men and Yorkshire lasses that
have done so well in recent years.
“They deserve it and they’ll put on one hell of a show.”