The rider who made Great Britain dream about a Tour de France win. In fact, Wiggins not only won it but, in the process, achieved one of the greatest seasons of all time by any road cyclist ever. In 2012, the British rider won the Tour de France, the gold medal in the individual time trial in the Olympic Games, plus 3 of the most prestigious one-week stage races in the calendar: Paris-Nice, Tour of Romandie and the Critérium du Dauphiné. Just like Roger Lápebie, the rider ranked 100 on this list, Sir Bradley Wiggins also won the Tour de France once, 75 years after the Frenchman.
He started his career as a track cyclist and is one of the most decorated British track riders of all-time with 8 total Olympic track medals: 5 golds, 1 silver and 2 bronze. He also held the hour record for more than 3 years, breaking Alex Dowsett’s previous record on June 7, 2015, until Victor Campenaerts beat it on April 1, 2019. This would have been extremely impressive by itself but these accomplishments didn’t even factor in when assessing his place in the all-time list.
As spectacular as his track career was, Wiggins’ road career was even better, in my opinion. His first road cycling team was Linda McCartney Racing Team, the first British team to ride the Giro d’Italia and home, at one point or another, to riders such as Iñigo Cuesta and Pascal Richard. It was with the British team that he won his first race as a pro: the first stage and overall classification of the Flèche du Sud, a Luxembourger stage race.
Linda McCartney Racing Team disbanded soon after and Wiggins joined Française des Jeux for the 2002-2003 seasons, where he never found his groove. Despite this, the French team gave him his first start in a Grand Tour, the 2003 Giro where he was one of the 35 riders that arrived outside of the time limit on stage 18 (the last in this stage was legendary Italian sprinter Alessandro Petacchi). The only road win Wiggins managed in the two years with FDJ was the opening time trial of the 2003 Tour de L’Avenir. At FDJ his teammates included: classics rider Philippe Gilbert, Australians Bradley McGee, Baden Cooke and Mark Renshaw, French sprinter Jimmy Casper, and Wiggins’ fellow Eurosport co-host, Bernhard Eisel.
In my opinion, Sir Bradley’s time at FDJ was worth it just for this:
In 2006, the British rider changed teams for the third time, and again to another French team: Cofidis. This was the year that Wiggins rode his first Tour de France, finished in 122nd place, and disappointing in the time trials: 14th in the prologue, and 26th and 54th in the longer time-trials.
The first big results of his professional road career started appearing in 2007, in the form of 3 stage wins (all time trials) in the 4 Days of Dunkerke, Critérium du Dauphiné and in the Tour du Poitou-Charentes, and two 4th places in both Tour de France time trials. He also won the Duo Normand, a two-man time trial, with teammate Michiel Elijzen. This was the confirmation that Bradley Wiggins could be a top road rider (at least in the time trial) if he so chose. Other teammates during the 2 years the British rider spent at Cofidis were, for example, French “all-terrain” rider Sylvain Chavanel, American sprinter Tyler Farrar, or French climber David Moncoutié.
From 2008-2010, Sir Bradley moved teams three times: first to High Road, then to Garmin Slipstream in 2009, and finally to Sky in 2010. In 2008, he focused on the Olympic track events (where he won two gold medals) so his road results are not impressive: his best was a 4th place in the Giro time trial. Team High Road in 2008 had a superstar lineup, with several riders that need no introduction: André Greipel, Mark Cavendish and Tony Martin, just to name a few.
The following year, however, become the breakthrough, confirmation year of the British rider. The year in which he asserted himself as one of the top riders in the peloton and a potential Tour de France winner. In my opinion, his 2009 Tour performance was a huge surprise looking back at his career up to that point, including the 2009 season – his best result had been a time trial win at the Three Days of De Panne. He rode the 2009 Giro with poor results in the mountains, finishing the Italian Grand Tour in 71st place. Nevertheless, he showed up to the Tour some kilos lighter and put forth fantastic performances in the mountains and in the time trials en route to a 4th place overall (later moved to 3rd because of Lance Armstrong’s disqualification).
The 2009 Garmin Slipstream squad reunited Wiggins with former teammate at Cofidis, Tyler Farrar, and also had in its ranks riders like Irish puncheur Dan Martin, British time trialist David Millar, and eventual Giro winner Ryder Hesjedal.
In 2010 Wiggins moved to Team Sky, whose uniform he made famous during the initial years of the British team. Things started very well for the British partnership, with Wiggins taking his first Grand Tour victory on his first try with a Sky shirt on by winning the opening time trial of the 2010 Giro. Nonetheless, from this point forward, the only bright spot would be a win in the British time trial championship which was very little for a rider that showed so much promise just a year ago. The rest of the Giro did not go well (40th overall), and the only thing that prevented him from being completely anonymous in the Tour was his fantastic results from the prior year. Wiggins finished the 2010 Tour in 24th place.
As with many superheroes, there is the set-up, the twist, rock bottom and the victory. The 2011 season had all of this. It started out quite well with the most important stage race win of Wiggins’ career up to that point: the 2011 Critérium du Dauphiné. Everything looked good for the Tour. At the start of stage 7 the British rider was 6th overall, already ahead of almost every other contender. Unfortunately, a crash with about 40km to go on the stage would derail all his hard work.
Bradley Wiggins would not be deterred though. A broken collarbone later and Wiggo was ready just in time to take out his frustrations at another Grand Tour, the 2011 Vuelta a España, and prove once and for all that he was deserving of the praise and status he got going into the 2010 season. He did this by finishing the Vuelta in the podium behind teammate and up and coming talent Chris Froome, and winner Juan Cobo (who would eventually be disqualified).
Coming into 2012, after such a good performance by Froome in the Vuelta, there were questions about who would lead Team Sky in the 2012 Tour. Team Sky itself though didn’t seem to have many questions and went with the rider who had been the icon of the team up to that point: Bradley Wiggins. He started the season by winning the time trial in the Tour of Algarve, then went on to win the Paris Nice, the Tour of Romandie and the Critérium du Dauphiné for a second time, securing time trial wins in all these races.
At the Tour, we saw the beginning of the famous Sky train that would dominate that race for a portion of the 2010s. Nobody was able to pierce a hole through Sky’s armor that year and the team finished with an “easy” 1-2 with Wiggins, finally (and deservedly) at number 1 ahead of Chris Froome. When a rider is as dominant in a discipline as Wiggins was in the time trial in 2012 there is not much to discuss in terms of how deserved his victory was, in my opinion. He won both long time trials in the Tour (>90km combined) and placed second in the prologue. Even if Froome was slightly better in the mountains that year, Wiggins’ dominance in the time trial was just too great to ignore.
As mentioned in the opening paragraph, the British Tour de France champion was not satisfied with his season yet, so he went on to win the gold medal in the road time trial of the 2012 Olympic Games, 42 seconds ahead of silver medalist and reigning world champion Tony Martin, and more than a minute ahead of compatriot and teammate Chris Froome.
After the 2012 Tour, Bradley Wiggins would no longer finish any other Grand Tours until the end of his career. He started the 2013 season with aspirations of a Giro-Tour double, but his plans were ruined by Team Sky’s focus on the up-and-coming Chris Froome, along with an illness that forced him to retire from the Giro, and a knee injury that forced him to forgo the chance to defend his Tour title. Still, in 2013, he would go on to win his home Tour of Britain, as well as a stage in the Tour de Pologne, and a silver medal in the road world time trial championships.
From 2014 up until the end of his road career his main focus was the Paris Roubaix and the world championships. In 2014 he managed an honorable 9th place in the French Classic which, in my mind, was incredible because I never thought possible to see a former Tour winner compete for Roubaix in the 21st century. In the same year he also won the Tour of California and the British national time trial championship, as well as placing 3rd overall in the Tour of Britain.
He would finish the year with his much-desired road world time trial championship win beating the incumbent world champion, the man who defeated him for this same title the year before, German rider Tony Martin, in a deja-vu from the 2012 Olympics.
As a curiosity, the last road win of Wiggins’ stellar career was a repeat of one of his 2009 wins, from before he was highly regarded was a Grand Tour champion: the Sky rider won, on the 2nd of April of 2015, the time trial of the Three Days of De Panne race. After this he would go on to break the hour record in June, as previously mentioned.
In 2016, Wiggo would race for his own Team Wiggins mainly as a way to prepare for the Olympic track events where he would win another gold medal, before retiring in September, at the end of the Tour of Britain.
In my opinion, Bradley Wiggins has one of the most interesting careers of any rider ever. The fact that he raced for three of the biggest French teams of his time and for five teams overall before he found a home with Sky, makes me scratch my head: how is it possible that such a great road cyclist spent more than half of his career without any team manager scooping him up and locking him in for years? Does Wiggins regret investing so much in his track career when he could have used the time to become one of the top 20 riders of all time? It’s not like he wasted his time as his track accolades are phenomenal, but is he satisfied with just one Tour win? A Tour win that he couldn’t even go back to defend?
Anyway, this might be my selfish side talking. I always appreciated great time trialists that can hold their own in the mountains and wanted to have had more years to appreciate his greatness on a road bike. Regardless of how long it was, what Wiggins gave us was spectacular.