Whiskered Briton Wiggins rides to new heights

LONDON (Reuters) - A big engine. A self-confessed Mod. Straightforward. Sometimes offhand. An Impersonator. Obsessive. Meet Tour de France and Olympic time trial champion Bradley Wiggins.

Four years ago, Wiggins halted his highly successful Olympic track cycling career - which included three golds, a silver and two bronze - to set his sights on being the first Briton to win the world's greatest stage race.

But his love of the Games meant he could not give up on them completely, and he stayed in road events, on Wednesday taking gold in the men's individual time trial to become Briton's most decorated Olympian little more than a week after winning the Tour.

"From his years on the track, he kept his sang-froid, the mastery of events. When he decides something, nothing can deter him from his goal," Francis van Londersele, who managed Wiggins at road team Cofidis from 2006-07, told Reuters.

In 2008, he joined the High Road team, where he was just a member of the lead-out train for sprinter Mark Cavendish, the world champion who was recently reduced to being a water bottle carrier for Wiggins on the Tour.

Favourite Cavendish missed on out on medal in Saturday's London road race, in contrast to Wiggins' time trial triumph on Wednesday, where he won his seventh Olympic medal - the most for any Briton.

"His first tests showed he had a huge engine," said Valerio Piva, Wiggin's then sports director.

Taking his fate into his own hands, Wiggins left the High Road team to join the American outfit Garmin.

Team manager Jonathan Vaughters recalled: "He wrote me an email saying he would like to come to Garmin and I said 'great we would like to have you' and he said 'OK, how do we want to negotiate this?'

"I basically then said 'listen, I'm not your typical American who will want to drag negotiations for three months' and he said 'I'm not your typical Brit, I'd rather get this bullshit out of the way.

"And we literally agreed on a figure. He is a very straightforward character."

He always has been, according to Piva.

"When he wants to say something, he says it to your face."


Van Londersele added: "During the team briefing, you had to be careful about what you said because he would continue the briefing without you, miming you. He is a great impersonator."

Belgium-born Wiggins came from a modest background and grew up with his mother after his father Garry, a famous Six Days race specialist who died in 2008 in mysterious circumstances, left for Australia when he was two.

In his autobiography, In Pursuit of Glory, Wiggins wrote: "Most of his days seemed to consist of buying a couple of crates of VBs, dragging them back to his 'unit' and steadily drinking himself into an angry stupor."

Asked if he thought his father would be proud of his amazing achievements, he said: "I don't know really, it's difficult to say, that depends whether he was sober or... I don't know. I've put that one to bed."

The 32-year-old himself had to fight a drinking habit when he came to France to start his professional road career.

"The only thing to do was buy a six pack. I was always drunk between races. I lived on top of a Chinese restaurant. Later I needed money to raise my kids. I told myself it was time to make a living. That's how it started," said Wiggins.

The Tour de France champion, however, is not just "a kid who happened to be good at riding a bike".

He is also a self-confessed Mod, who received a message of encouragement before the Tour's final time trial from the Modfather, musician Paul Weller.

Modism is a music and fashion throwback to the 1960s, and Wiggins obeys its dress code, including a Weller-like haircut and long sideburns. He also owns a bass guitar that once belonged to The Who's John Entwistle.

Wiggins has, however, ditched the Mod behaviour.

"Things you did to entertain yourself 10 years ago don't apply to you when your kids are nearly 10, nightclubbing, things like that. You don't live for the weekend, you live for your children more," said the father of two.

"I think all that reflects on your professionalism, how you apply yourself to your job."

(Editing by Jason Neely)

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