Tour de France: The making of Bradley Wiggins - Others - More Sports - The Independent

Tour de France: The making of Bradley Wiggins

Sam Wallace talks to those who have helped the cyclist rise from cheeky London lad to the best in the world

Walk south down Kilburn High Road to the point where it becomes Maida Vale and on the west side of the street you see Dibdin House, a tidy five-storey block of flats built in the 1930s. On one of north London's great roads, that takes you all the way down to Marble Arch through a range of neighbourhoods; past pubs, shops, posh houses, tatty flats and innumerable fried chicken outlets, Dibdin House does not stand out. It is, however, the childhood home of a man about to take his place among the all-time greats of British sport. It is where Bradley Wiggins, 32, the man who stands on the brink of being the first Briton to win the Tour de France, would ride his bike as a child and dream of being a champion.

The area around Dibdin House is classic London: old-money St John's Wood to the east, salubrious Little Venice to the west, but dotted everywhere are the low-cost tower blocks thrown up by local authorities after the war. Stand on Maida Vale, with the traffic rushing past in both directions, and try to imagine a Tour winner starting his journey here. The scale of Wiggins' achievement starts to kick in.

They breed them tough in Kilburn. As a teenager, Wiggins would ride his bike the eight miles to Herne Hill velodrome through central London or to other meets. At 12, he was hit by a car in Shepherd's Bush and broke his collar bone. One of his coaches at Herne Hill, Colin Denman, recalls the time the young Wiggins had his wrist broken when the tarpaulin on a skip truck he was following broke loose and hit him.

His former PE teacher at St Augustine's CE High School in Kilburn, Graham Hatch, remembers a boy who played in goal for his school football teams and relentlessly pursued a cycling career in his spare time. "He had drive and ambition," Hatch says, "to come from inner-city London and get where he is now and achieve what he has, you have to be very motivated and have family support."

The key themes of Wiggins' past are documented in his excellent 2008 autobiography In Pursuit of Glory in which he tells the sad story of his Australian biological father Garry who abandoned Wiggins' mother Linda when Wiggins was just two. Garry had been a talented rider who had come to Europe to compete on the Six Day circuit and peaked in the mid-1980s with a European Madison title before a long and painful decline.

In his son's words, Garry was "a car crash as a partner and a parent", a heavy drinker notorious in cycling for settling disputes with his fists. His end was just as violent. Garry was found badly beaten and unconscious in 2008 in the town of Aberdeen in New South Wales and later died in hospital just six months before Bradley won the second and third Olympic gold medals of his career at the Beijing Games that year.

Although Wiggins is now based in the town of Eccleston in Lancashire and has two children himself, the connection to Kilburn continues. Linda still lives in Dibdin House and works as a secretary in St Augustine's primary school. Wiggins' half-brother Ryan is a teaching assistant at the senior school and now works alongside Mr Hatch, the teacher who first encouraged the teenage cycling prodigy.

Linda and Ryan were not for talking about the most famous member of their family this week but Hatch, who has taught at St Augustine's since 1978, remembered a boy who had no flair for the academic side of school life but was "focused and exacting" in sport. He was part of the school football teams that played in the competitive West London League while cycling was his true passion.

"When we had parents' evenings, he and his mum would come over to me first for a report in PE and get some positives before they went off to hear the news from elsewhere," Hatch told The Independent. "He was not academic and he would be the first to say that. But what Bradley had was drive from an early age, you can see that from the fact that he lived in Kilburn but would go all the way down to Herne Hill to train.

"Part of the problem living in an inner city – and people don't realise this – is that there aren't many local sports teams, not even football. It's fine if you live further out but it's really hard if you are in central London, unless your parents are really motivated and want to get you out to places to do sport. His family were able to do that for him."

In Wiggins' autobiography, he remembers his first experience of organised track cycling taking place on a then-unused part of the Hayes bypass and it was from there that he was referred to Herne Hill. There, Denman remembers him being introduced as "the son of Garry Wiggins" despite the fact that by then, unbeknownst to the coaches, Bradley had not seen his father for around a decade and scarcely knew him.

Denman, now 67, remembers Wiggins as a "very skinny, regular young lad" who "still has the same skinny legs now". He did not stand out from the crowd until he became a junior rider (ages 16 to 19) and won his first junior world title at the age of 18 at the 1998 championships in Cuba in the individual pursuit.

"He was a bit more outrageous in those days," Denman says. "At one time I can remember taking him as part of a group on a trip to the Six Nations events around Europe. We were in Wales on one occasion and the hotel manager came up to me in the bar and said: 'One of your lads is doing moonies out the window.' That was Bradley. He was that sort of lad!

"He used to take the mickey out of everyone. He was a bit of a character. He used to mimic people's voices and he was very good at it. As for the cycling, when he got to the junior stage the talent really shone through. He was simply a very good bike rider by then... he always used to say that he would be a world champion."

Denman knew Garry too – "a brilliant rider but he wasn't a nice man". Bradley was treading a different path. After his victory in Cuba, Wiggins was on a new level. Lottery funding was flooding into British sport and with his successes he was awarded a full £20,000 Category A annual grant as he began laying the preparations for his first Olympics in Sydney in 2000.

The former European pro rider John Herety was the national team manager with British cycling for much of the previous decade, now team manager for Rapha Condor Sharp, and he was there when Wiggins made his first impact on the road, winning the Cinturon in Majorca in 2001. "We took a track team there for the experience and not expecting to do well," Herety told The Independent. "Brad won the race. Simple as that.

"He was a great character. As a kid he didn't watch children's videos, he grew up watching cycling events on video. There were the city centre race series called the Kellogg's Criterium and he used to watch those. His party trick was that he could remember the brand of shoes each rider wore, their kit and when they changed it. I could ask him what shoes I was wearing in, say, the Cardiff race of the 1986 series and he would be able to tell me.

"When Brad started there was no World Class Performance Programme [in British cycling]. The system wasn't in place and yet he was still a world junior champion. After that he was the right age to take advantage of it when it kicked in [at the start of the last decade] but he was already a class act by then. That sort of thing is in people. He was a gifted athlete who managed to find the right people to help him at the right time. He was astute."

Herety remembers a young cyclist who was "wild" at times and could let himself go over the winter, especially where alcohol was concerned, a pattern that Wiggins repeated after his gold and silver Olympic medals in Athens in 2004. That has changed now and if/when he wins in Paris tomorrow he will cement his status as a sporting celebrity in the cycling-obsessed nations of Europe. In Maida Vale, he will probably turn a few more heads but is still unlikely to get mobbed.

Life and Style
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape
Paper trail: the wedding photograph found in the rubble after 9/11 – it took Elizabeth Keefe 13 years to find the people in it
newsWho are the people in this photo? It took Elizabeth Stringer Keefe 13 years to find out
Yes supporters gather outside the Usher Hall, which is hosting a Night for Scotland in Edinburgh
voicesBen Judah: Is there a third option for England and Scotland that keeps everyone happy?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)
filmMatt Damon in talks to return
peopleThe report and photo dedicated to the actress’s decolletage has, unsurprisingly, provoked anger
Arts and Entertainment
Evil eye: Douglas Adams in 'mad genius' pose
booksNew biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Life and Style
tech... and together they're worth at least £100 million
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
filmsDaniel Craig is believed to be donning skies as 007 for the first time
Arts and Entertainment
Fringe show: 'Cilla', with Sheridan Smith in the title role and Aneurin Barnard as her future husband Bobby Willis
tvEllen E Jones on ITV's 'Cilla'
Life and Style
Bono and Apple CEO Tim Cook announced U2's surprise new album at the iPhone 6 launch
tech(but you can't escape: Bono is always on your iPhone)
Tim Wiese
Life and Style
Kim Kardashian drawn backlash over her sexy swimsuit selfie, called 'disgusting' and 'nasty'
fashionCritics say magazine only pays attention to fashion trends among rich, white women
Arts and Entertainment
TVShows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Arts and Entertainment
Hit the roof: hot-tub cinema east London
architectureFrom pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Programme Test Manager

£400 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client are currently seekin...

IT Network Manager - Shepherd's Bush, London

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Network Manager - Shepherd's Bush...

Secondary supply teachers needed in Peterborough

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Secondary supply teac...

Modern Foreign Languages Teacher

£100 - £110 per day: Randstad Education Group: Full time German Supply Teacher...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week