As Britain fêtes its newest sporting hero, Bradley Wiggins, the Tour de France champion’s Australian relatives are hoping the publicity may help solve the mystery of his father’s violent death.
Wiggins’s father, Gary, a former professional track cyclist, died of head injuries after being ejected from a party in the Hunter Valley, north of Sydney, in 2008. An inquest found he had been assaulted before he died, but returned an open verdict. The coroner stopped short of recommending that charges be laid against two men who were at the party.
Gary Wiggins – who had been living and competing in Europe – abandoned his English wife, Linda, when Bradley was two, returning to his native Australia. With the circumstances of his death still unclear, his sister, Glenda Hughes, is hoping the media coverage of Bradley’s Tour de France win may lead to police being given new information.
“I’m hoping that all this publicity might just stir something up in somebody,” Ms Hughes, who lives in Victoria, told Melbourne’s The Age today. “I’m hoping that what Bradley is doing will stir something in someone to come forward and tell us what happened.”
Bradley Wiggins has spoken openly about his father’s alcoholism. Asked shortly before the end of the Tour de France what Gary would have thought of his success, the triple Olympic gold medalist replied: “It’s difficult to say … It depends on whether he was sober.”
Born in Victoria, Gary Wiggins was a national cycling champion who won a number of international titles. After moving to Britain in 1976, he competed in Europe for nearly a decade, specialising in six-day races. He met and married Linda, his second wife, and Bradley was born in the Belgian city of Ghent in 1980. Two years later, Gary quit England and his family.
In January 2008, aged 55, he was found unconscious in the Hunter Valley town of Aberdeen, near the cemetery. At the inquest, one witness described how two men had dragged him out into the street the night before. Ms Hughes said he had been “beaten to a pulp”. Bradley, now 32, did not attend his funeral.
He had seen his father just once, during the lead-up to the Sydney Olympic Games in 2000, visiting him in the town of Muswellbrook, where Gary was working as a house painter. It was not a happy reunion, Bradley recalled in his autobiography, In Pursuit of Glory. “Most of his [Gary’s] days would consist of buying a couple of crates of VBs [beer] … and steadily drinking himself into a stupor,” he wrote.
At his father’s behest, he took part in a local cycling competition, finishing second. “By the end of the race he was surrounded by a pile of tinnies [beer cans], hammered and … telling me what I had done wrong and how he would have won.”
Photographs of Wiggins riding down the Champs Elysees this week with his son, Ben, evoked a very different father-son relationship. Yet Wiggins has acknowledged Gary’s part in his success. “His achievements as a cyclist and almost legendary ‘hard-man’ status on the circuit undoubtedly helped propel me towards a competitive career in the sport,” he wrote. “Our shared DNA is at the heart of the story.”