Reading an interview with Sir Bradley Wiggins in yesterday’s Guardian reminded me of what an amazing man, never mind cyclist, he is. I am no expert on cycling, but I have a lot of man love for Sir Wiggo. In a way, parts of him, aside from the ability to ride a bicycle quite as well as he does, remind me of me. Raised by his mother when his father left at the age of two he learned not just at schools and colleges but also at the school of life. Happily, unlike me, he was inspired by someone (Chris Boardman) and found he was especially good at something (cycling, obviously). But life was still not smooth for him.
He went off the rails, even after he was married, staying in the pub all day and all night. When his son came along, “it sobered me up, literally and metaphorically”. I am so glad it did.
Wiggins has an edge to him, a powerful edge that lurks not below the surface but on it. He is powerfully, painfully honest to the point where you feel there might be a certain level of self-destructiveness about the man. But there isn’t. He tells you about life as he sees it and not how people expect you to. If he is “feeling like shit today”, he will say so, as opposed to the platitudes people like me come up with, you know: “I’m fine thank you.” I’m not eloquent enough to explain why, in words of one syllable, I feel like shit one day but Sir Wiggo is. People won’t want to hang around waiting for me to tell it like I see it, so I say everything is good. We need more Sir Wiggos.
He’s retiring from cycling soon and pondering his future. My God, this country must be well-endowed with stellar talent if we can’t find a major role in sport and society that’s big enough to match his talents. He knows that he doesn’t want to end up like Paul Gascoigne, something he describes in a gentle, unassuming way and he admires what the likes of Michael Johnson, Michael Jordan and Gary Lineker have achieved. He’s up with them, stature wise. He could do all that.
We live in a country where we need heroes to inspire. Less people are playing sport, we have an obesity crisis. Who better to effect change than one of the greatest sportsmen of our lifetimes? He spent some time recently in London with a bunch of 20 children from Hackney, all of whom had gone off the rails. They’d been kitted out with bikes, helmets and lycra and, as Wiggo said, “these kids were blown away by the fact I was there”. Well, he shouldn’t have been surprised. He is what a hero looks like.
And Sir Bradley Wiggins is a constant reminder that the little guy from a modest background can reach the top of the tree. I wish I’d met someone like him when I was young and maybe I might have made better, or indeed any, choices. He came from a background slightly like mine so he understands. A generation of young people need people like him.