Wiggins was once thought of as cycling's 'white knight'
The Tour de France winner Bradley Wiggins has described watching Lance Armstrong confess to doping with a mixture of emotions including “anger and sadness.”
Wiggins said he had found the opening section of the interview Armstrong gave to Oprah Winfrey in which the American admitted using EPO and blood doping, “difficult to watch, watching him cave in after lying so convincingly. It’s heartbreaking for the sport, but then the anger kicks in ... all the natural things most people had when they were watching it. In the end I felt he deserved everything he gets. I felt no sympathy for him whatsoever.’
... The Olympic time trial champion has stated already that he would be particularly angry if Armstrong was shown to have used banned drugs or doping methods in the 2009 Tour, where the Briton finished fourth, one place behind the American. He said Armstrong’s contention to Winfrey that he had raced clean in 2009 and 2010, when he made a comeback to ride the Tour, had upset him the most.
“I thought, ‘You lying bastard’ ... I don’t believe anything that comes out of his mouth anymore.”
January 24, 2013
In October 2012, two months after Bradley Wiggins had become the first Briton in history to win the Tour de France, a young American called Joe Dombrowski left his home in Marshall, Virginia and took a flight to London. The 21-year-old had just signed a contract with Team Sky and was about to meet Wiggins for the first time.
It had been a calamitous month for the sport. Lance Armstrong had been stripped of his seven Tour de France wins and received a life ban for doping. “Lance Armstrong has no place in cycling: he deserves to be forgotten in cycling,” Pat McQuaid, the president of the UCI, had announced. “Something like this must never happen again.”
It was music to the ears of Dombrowski. A brilliant talent, he had spent his first two years as a pro with Livestrong, a development team supported by Armstrong, and told The Sunday Times he had chosen to sign for Sky because “I wanted a team that ethically had a strong stance.”
A battle for the credibility of cycling had started and Bradley Wiggins was leading the charge.
Here’s his reaction in 2006 when he finishes his first Tour in 124th place — three hours and 24 minutes behind Floyd Landis — and learns the winner has tested positive:
“I felt physically sick when I heard the news. My first reaction was purely selfish and related only to me. ‘You bastard Landis,’ I thought. ‘You have completely ruined my own small achievement of getting around the Tour de France and being a small part of cycling history. You and guys like you are pissing on my sport and my dreams.’
“Why do guys like you keep cheating? How many of you are out there, taking the piss and getting away with it? Sod you all. You are a bunch of cheating bastards and I hope one day they catch the lot of you and ban you all for life. You can keep doing it your way and I will keep doing it mine. You won’t ever change me, you sods. B******s to all of you. At least I can look myself in the mirror.”
Here he is a year later at a press conference in Manchester, lashing the Tour organisers after another race destroyed by scandals: “I think they have to take a strong look at who they invite to the race in the next few years; if there is a one per cent suspicion or doubt that a team is involved in doping, then they shouldn’t be invited to the Tour de France, it’s as simple as that. They shouldn’t even be given a racing license until they can prove that they are not involved in wrongdoing.”
And here he is to Dombrowski in October 2012, when the kid arrives for his first meeting with Sky sporting a relic from his previous team — a yellow ‘Livestrong’ wristband: “You can start by taking that f*****g thing off.”
A month later, Wiggins was the BBC Sports Personality of the Year. A month after that, he was knighted in the new year’s honours list. Sir Bradley was a legend, and unequivocal. He had never had an injection. He had won the Tour clean. Dopers had no place in cycling.
Six years later, on a sunny Wednesday morning in April 2018, I’m sitting with Floyd Landis at his home in New Jersey when I notice he’s sipping coffee from a mug adorned with a drawing of Wiggins. “I’m an Amish pacifist,” he’d said a couple of months before. “But if I ever cross paths with Wiggins, I’m going to punch him so hard he won’t know what happened.”
“So what’s with the mug?” I inquired.
“Do you like it?”
“Yeah,” he laughed. “That guy is just the worst. He wrote in his book that I f****d up his life and ruined cycling for him. He knew Armstrong was lying but he made it personal about me! Why do that? He doesn’t know me. He wasn’t even in the same f*****g zip code when we were racing — he was so far back he wouldn’t have heard me if I had yelled.”
Life had become complicated for the sport’s white knight.
In September 2016, a Russian cyber espionage group — the Fancy Bear — had released documents showing that Wiggins had been provided with a Therapeutic Use Exemption (TUE) for triamcinolone, a powerful corticosteroid, in 2011, 2012 and 2013. Two years later, a month before my interview with Floyd, a House of Commons select committee had published a report and concluded that Team Sky had crossed an ethical line and abused the anti-doping system.
Floyd was livid.
“What a f*****g debacle,” he said. “Wiggins saying he’d never seen a needle ... ‘Oh, I didn’t mean those needles’.”
I laughed: “I didn’t mean the ones they were shoving into my ass!”
“They [Team Sky] made such a big spectacle about how clean they were, created this whole fake story that’s just indefensible now ... I didn’t know [Wiggins], and had no reason to think anything good or bad about him, but he made it personal and he deserves to get crushed.”
“Sounds reasonable,” I concurred.
“Look, what’s good for me is good for you, but you can’t have it both ways. He said that I pretty much deserved to have my life destroyed because I refused to admit the truth and now, here we are.”
Where we are, on the tenth anniversary of his fall from grace, is what Lance makes of it all.
For five years now he’s had a podcast, The Move, offering listeners “a rare insider’s perspective” on the Tour de France. Two weeks ago, on the eve of the final stage to Paris, his guest was Bradley Wiggins.
No athlete in history has stored slights or born grudges like Lance and we tuned-in expecting fireworks. “Now, if I remember correctly Bradley, you said my admission was heartbreaking for the sport, and that I was a lying bastard and deserved everything I got. What about you, Bradley? What about your lies? What do you deserve?” But there was none of it.
They chatted for 20 minutes swapping pleasantries and profanities and blowing kisses at each other.
“Fascinating. Sir Bradley thank you so much.”
“Thanks for having me on.”
“You’re a legend for coming on.”
“Love the show.”
“What a personality! He’s had his ups and downs, and they’ve been well documented — not like some of our other friends in the sport — but the guy just lands on his feet, lands on his feet ... And he’s so f*****g good. I mean, I could have listened to that for hours.”
What happens two days later is more revealing. Lance is walking to the studio to record another show through a small corridor with some framed yellow jerseys from the Tour. He has a sheaf of documents in one hand, a drink in the other, and there’s a guy walking behind him with a camera.
He pauses at each frame, points, and starts counting: “One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six.”
Then he turns to face the camera, and what he really makes of it all is revealed in a word: “Seven.”