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Notes from the Scrum: ‘Bloody hell, I’ve just won the Tour’

The Tour de France champ, in his own words

Editor’s Note: Reporter Matthew Beaudin filed his Notes From the Scrum from time to time during the 2012 Tour de France, offering up the insights of a Tour rookie.

When one cobbles a story, it’s as much a science as a quick art. There’s the initial idea, which is held up by a mortar of quotes and facts and thoughts to verify the story’s existence. It’s all very matter of fact.

And then, there is writing a story about Bradley Wiggins.

By now, Wiggins’ sharp moments with the press at the Tour de France have been well documented. The “C” word, the snap at the cynics (another “C” word). The very well reasoned quote about no one giving him a pat on the back for his results, instead choosing to fire away about this, that, doping and his teammate’s accelerations.

It would have been easy to write a narrative about Wiggins — Britain’s first Tour winner — that portrayed him as cold, as dry, as someone who’d rather be left alone. But hearing him speak for the past two weeks has changed all that, for me at least. I don’t know Wiggins, but I do like him. I’ll tell it to anyone who will listen. He’s genuine under fire, and that’s commendable.

Sports, at their finest, distill the sweep of life into minutes, quarters, kilometers… The rawest of intentions are blasted into the prism of competition and what’s refracted out is, at best, a beautiful struggle that spans the good and bad of everyday emotion. We should expect the same of the athletes on the line — they aren’t robots, and why would we want them to be? Sure, Wiggins makes it hard on journalists sometimes, but isn’t there something more real in that than a talking head telling everyone what they want to hear?

As the 2012 Tour de France wore on, Wiggins surprised journalists with his candor. My favorite moment as a reporter at this Tour, my first, was the press conference after the final individual time trial, into Chartres. Wiggins had won by more than a minute, taken the Tour and hushed the chorus singing to his teammate Chris Froome (which I admit I had a voice in).

On this day, Wiggins came to the press room, rather than the standard video conference. Everyone stood and clapped. I felt like this was the Wiggins most people know rather than the one we all piece together in our stories. What follows is a selection of Wiggins’ thoughts as he intended them, rather than diced up for the purpose of a writer.

Does anger drive you on the bike?

I don’t think there’s ever any anger, it’s not something that drives me, anger. A lot of it is my love for the sport, my respect for the sport. And a lot of it comes back to my childhood. I grew up with posters on my wall of Indurain and the like. Other kids my age went to football, but I was just into cycling… Ultimately you just do it for a sense of accomplishment. You apply yourself to something in your life, and I get a lot of satisfaction for something like today, time trialing. Its’ all about pacing and numbers and crossing the line and having it all gone to plan. It’s very quantifiable; it’s just you against the machine really. That’s why I always loved it. Its about coming away, seeing if you can train harder or work harder, and see if you can get a result out of it.

On the magnitude of bike racing, and winning the 2012 Tour de France:

The thing I kept reminding myself that has given me perspective and kept me in reality, the fact that it’s only sport at the end of the day. It’s not life and death. It would not be very difficult in the Tour to lose that sense of reality, because it’s just mad, the minute I crossed the line, police pushing people. It’s like a mad murderer going into court or something, and that’s not really reality… I have a lot of other things in my life that mean more to me than this, and I’ve give this up in a minute for that. But for a sporting sense, you have to go out and work, so you need to. In a sporting sense, yea, this is my greatest sporting achievement. Bloody hell, I’ve just won the Tour. What’s bigger than that? But perhaps not in life.

On what drives him to ride the bike:

Cycling is an inspirational sport. I’m not ashamed to admit that when I watched Cadel win the Tour last year I was absolutely inspired. I had a broken collarbone, but it was like being a kid again, and I went and got the turbo out that night. And that’s what cycling does to people, and that’s what it does to me, and that’s what’s made me get up every morning and go training and put the time into this project. And if this inspires someone else to do it then that’s incredible.

On joining the company of past winners and surpassing other Brits:

It’s a very special list to be on. To exceed people like Robert Millar and Tom Simpson and stuff. I still never see myself up there with those names, because those were the names that when I was a child, you just never imagined you’d be better than them. They were like cult heroes.

In the end I’m just Bradley Wiggins. I go to the toilet every day like everyone else. You never imagine it’s you, you know, that would be up there with those names. To be on there with (Bernard) Hinault and Eddy Merckx, and now, barring incident, being the winner. The winner of Paris-Nice, Dauphiné and the Tour in one year, it’s quite something.

On being recognized:

So much of British culture now is built up on people who are famous for nothing, for doing nothing. It’s nice to get respect for doing something, to see what you have achieved in sport can mean to so many people. It’s incredible that sport can do that. At the end of the day I have go to home and clean up dog muck and horse muck. At the end of the day it’s just sport, there will be more winners of the Tour in the future. It’s great, you know.

After Wiggins left, he stopped, turned around, and came back. The staff had already turned off the mic. He waited for it to kick back on again. He made a joke about singing a song. And then, he apologized:

I just wanted to say, I know I can be a pain in the arse at times to the press. I am only human, at the end. I’ve never trained. As much as I’ve trained physically to do all this stuff on the bike, I have never trained to do well in the media. I wanted to just say thanks to everyone for the last couple weeks, for putting up with me. All year, actually, since Paris-Nice. My mood swings at times and what have you. I just wanted to say thanks for everything. All right. Cheers.

Cheers, indeed.