Tuesday 18 June 2019

Paul Kimmage: 'Sir Wiggo gets back to brass necks'

Bradley Wiggins. Photo: PA
Bradley Wiggins. Photo: PA
Paul Kimmage

Paul Kimmage

It was a sunny Wednesday morning in April and Floyd Landis had been sitting at his dining room table and checking his emails for 20 minutes when I noticed that the mug he was drinking his coffee from was adorned with a pixie-faced drawing of Sir Bradley Wiggins, the 2012 Tour de France winner and most decorated British Olympian of all time.

Floyd wasn't a fan.

"I'm an Amish pacifist," he'd said a couple of months before. "But if I ever cross paths with Wiggins I'm gonna punch him so hard, he won't know what the fuck happened . . . I hate that guy."

"So what's with the mug?" I inquired.

"Do you like it?"

"No."

"Yeah, that guy is just the worst," he laughed. "He wrote in his book that I fucked up his life and ruined cycling for him, and then he heaped praise on Armstrong. 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 fucking zip code when we were racing - he was so far back he wouldn't have heard me if I'd yelled."

"I know Floyd, I was there," I laughed.

The 10th stage of the 2006 Tour de France had just concluded in Pau. It was Wiggins' first Tour, and his first taste of the mountains, and he had rolled in over 17 minutes down on the stage winner, Jean Miguel Mercado. The experience had almost broken him.

"That first climb was just mind-blowing," he said, as a helper wiped the dust from his face and offered him a drink. "There was one stage when I thought, 'What am I doing here?'"

But his Calvary was just beginning.

The next stage was a blazing-hot ride across the Tourmalet, the Aspin, the Peyresourde, and the Portillon. A week later they had reached the Alps and three incredibly tough stages over Alpe d'Huez, La Toussaire and Morzine. Wiggins dug deep and hung on to Paris and completed his first Tour in 121st place - three hours and 24 minutes behind the winner, Floyd Landis .

I was happy he had made it and sent him a text after the final mountain stage to Morzine: 'Bloody well done mate.' Within minutes he sent a reply: 'Thanks Paul, two beers at dinner makes it feel sweeter.' I liked and admired Wiggins and felt I could trust him.

I did not trust Floyd.

On the day after observing Wiggins at Pau, I'd watched Floyd take the yellow jersey at Val d'Aran and made some notes: "One of the great joys of covering the Tour is access to the riders and I was so close to Landis, the new race leader, that I could actually touch him.

"A helper handed him a bottle of water; he pulled off the top, took a swig and poured the rest over his head.

"He removed his jersey and towelled his sweat-covered chest; every fibre of his body was twitching. His American coach embraced him with tears in his eyes. Five television camera crews and at least a hundred hacks were wrestling for a comment before he was taken away to the podium.

"I was more interested in how he looked than anything he had to say; I scanned his arms and legs and the crack of his ass; I was looking for needle-pricks and bruising, the tell-tale signs of a guy who knows the game."

A week later, Floyd tested positive and in In Pursuit of Glory, Wiggins' first autobiography, he did not hold back: "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?'

"There is me trailing home 131st and, for all I know, I might be a top 50 rider if we all started on a level playing field. 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. Bollocks to you all. At least I can look myself in the mirror."

And who could blame him? It was exactly how you would expect someone clean to react. But two years later after he had struggled to finish the Tour, and was walking up hills in the Giro d'Italia, Wiggins had transformed into a completely different rider and when Floyd was telling the world there was no such thing as Santa Claus - he had doped and witnessed Lance Armstrong dope - Wiggins was insisting that Santa Claus was real.

In On Tour, the second volume of his autobiographies, he penned a long tribute to Armstrong and devoted a page to his 'worst day on Tour" when I'd watched him in Pau.

"I (finished), just, and virtually collapsed half-dead across the line in Pau only to be greeted by journalist Paul Kimmidge who seemed in urgent need of a long exclusive interview about my first Tour. At that precise moment I could only think of two words but they were enough."

The notion that any journalist, let alone one who had raced the Tour, would hang around at the end of a stage waiting for a "long exclusive interview" was completely preposterous; Wiggins knew it was completely preposterous but even at that point - two years before he would win the Tour - his penchant for playing fast and loose with the truth was being indulged.

In My Time, the third volume of his autobiographies, he wrote that he had "never had an injection" - an impressive admission until those naughty Russians, the Fancy Bears, hacked into his medical files and revealed a different truth. We almost wet our trousers on that one.

Floyd: "What a fucking debacle. Wiggins saying he'd never seen a needle."

Me: (Laughing)

Floyd: "Oh! I didn't mean those needles."

Me: "I didn't mean the ones they were shoving into my ass!"

Floyd: "They (Team Sky) made such a big spectacle about how clean they were, created this whole fake story that's just indefensible now: 'Oh, we pay attention to all the details.' And they don't have any details at all."

Me: "Sorry, we didn't write anything down."

Floyd: "We don't know what happened."

Me: "We didn't order that testosterone."

Floyd: "We lost the laptop."

Me: "I don't know how to use dropbox!"

Floyd (laughs): "A god-damn fourth-grader can use fucking dropbox. The whole thing just . . . we don't really need any more details, a sensible person can draw the right conclusion. So my anger at Wiggins is (prompted) by himself. I didn't know him, and had no reason to think anything good or bad about him, but he made it personal and he deserves to get crushed."

Me: "Sounds reasonable."

Floyd: "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 were was a just-published report that had shattered Team Sky's illusion of integrity. A House of Commons select committee had concluded that Wiggins and Team Sky had crossed an "ethical line" and abused the anti-doping system to allow the administration of performance enhancing drugs.

But six months later, it's as if the report never happened.

The storm surrounding Chris Froome's positive test for salbutamol has abated. The Tour winner, Geraint Thomas, has been interviewed by all and sundry and afforded the easiest of rides. And 'Sir Wiggo' is making headlines again with another book.

Icons, his "love letter to cycling", is a series of portraits of his racing heroes; Fausto Coppi, Jacques Anquetil, Miguel Indurain, Tom Simpson and, wait for it - ta-da! - Lance Armstrong. "Look away now if you're easily offended," Wiggins writes by way of introduction, as if the glare from his extraordinary brass neck would offend anyone.

We should not be offended that it's only five years since he was describing Armstrong as a lying bastard, and admonishing a young team-mate, Joe Dombrowkski, in The Sunday Times for wearing a Livestrong wristband: "Get that fucking thing off you." We should not be offended that he once described dopers as "pissing on my sport and my dreams."

But we're not offended, we're laughing. What an asshole.

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