From the acclaim accorded a cycling majesty to the anonymity of a trip with his wife, Cathy, around Mothercare; Bradley Wiggins has allowed himself a return to normality since Athens. Indeed, according to some reports, bingeing has replaced bicycling for the Southport-based 24-year-old in the four months since he came back from Greece serenaded as the first British competitor to claim three medals at one Olympic Games since Mary Rand at Tokyo in 1964.
"I haven't exactly been Keith Richards-like," he says, laughingly protesting his innocence. "I was just living like a normal person. I've still kept fit, but I just didn't fancy riding my bike, and there was the freedom to have a couple of pints in the evening and eat what I like. It's been nice to do things different - like go to baby shops."
The latter has been in preparation for an addition to the family due in the spring. By then Wiggins will have returned to serious competition; though this time, not so much on the beaten track as on the yet-to-be-conquered road. This weekend he participates in what will be his last track events for two years, when he celebrates a homecoming at the Manchester Velodrome by contesting the madison, the points race and the scratch race - all endurance disciplines - in the World Cup which ends today. A total of 35 nations and 200 competitors are taking part, including the British Olympic one-kilometre gold medallist Chris Hoy, who repeated his Athens feat with victory on Friday; the country's leading woman road-racer, Nicole Cooke; and sprinter Victoria Pendleton.
After today, tarmac will take precedence in Wiggins's career. This week he departs for South Australia, where he will prepare to lead his Crédit Agricole squad in the Jacob's Creek Tour Down Under. There was an inevitability about those plans. After all, what does a man do when he has already achieved his life's goal - an Olympic gold, not to mention a silver and two bronzes, one of which was won at Sydney in 2000 - by the age of 24? New challenges are on the horizon, and daunting ones at that, given that he faces in Australia a six-day race, with the stages anything from 80 to 120 miles long. Ultimately, the Tour de France beckons, with the incentive of becoming a top 10 road-rider.
"The track's my first love," says Wiggins, born of an English mother and Australian father. "I started on it 12 years ago, developed on it, until I became Olympic champion. I'd love to continue for another 10 years on the track - perhaps even up until the 2016 Olympics. I'll definitely be aiming for Beijing in 2008. But it would be silly not to see if I can't take this talent I've got and do something on the road with it.
"Certainly, the Tour motivates me. That's a massive objective. Maybe in six years' time, I may be sitting here talking about being a contender. But to do that I need to give myself two years committed to the road. I've got the physique, I've got the power, I've got everything, to be one of the best road-riders in the world. It's whether I can convert all that physical power to the road. I think I can. Other riders have. [Brad] McGee [his friend and rival, the Aussie former pursuit world champion, whom Wiggins beat in Athens] has done it."
The mention of McGee allows his mind to drift back to Athens, where initially, he confesses, self-doubt plagued his every waking moment. "Four days before the final, I'd was doing such limited training, that I'd lie around in the village all day. All these thoughts would start flying around my head. I'd be thinking, 'I wonder how McGee's getting on? How's he going'. Then I started trying to take the pressure off. I'd convince myself that a silver would be all right, or a bronze would be good enough."
Wiggins adds: "Then right in the middle of this, two days before the [4km pursuit] final, Cathy told me she was pregnant. She was in a bit of a state, because she thought she was too young. But my first thought was, 'Right, that's it now. There's no pissing about. I'm not going to bottle out of this thing'. I told myself, 'You go out there and do this - what you've been training for over the past four years. This has gone beyond sport now. You're doing it for someone else. You get out there, and you do a professional job'."
That was precisely what he did, too, by setting a new Olympic record in the qualifying rounds. "Looking back at the videos, I rode with such an air of confidence that I rarely had at first," he recalls. "I remember riding round, trying not to look as though I was breathing hard, and putting one finger up to the Australian camp, as if to say, 'Come and beat that'."
McGee couldn't. In the final, Wiggins beat the Australian by four seconds. "As soon as I'd finished, I went to the barrier and hugged Cathy. She was in tears. I remember saying in her ear, 'That baby will never have to worry about money again now'."
Now for a new beginning. The genial Londoner knows that developing into Mr Golden Handlebars, and proving himself capable of donning the yellow jersey of the one Tour that matters most, is a different matter altogether.
Few in the sport would suggest that, for this phenomenal performer, the road will not be as paved with gold as the track.Reuse content