Wiggins brakes at crossroads after golden change of gear

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The Independent Online

Britain's most successful competitor at an Olympic Games for 40 years woke up yesterday morning and started to contemplate the rest of his life.

Britain's most successful competitor at an Olympic Games for 40 years woke up yesterday morning and started to contemplate the rest of his life.

"All I've been thinking about for the last four years was this week in Athens," Bradley Wiggins said as he took a break from a shopping trip in the city centre here. "I haven't really thought what I want to do with the rest of my cycling career and the rest of my life. I've got some big decisions to make."

Wiggins, who became only the second Briton since the war to win three medals at a single Olympics (Mary Rand was the other, in 1964) when he added the madison bronze on Wednesday to his individual pursuit gold and team pursuit silver, flies back to Britain today to prepare for next week's Tour of Britain.

He may also compete in one or two road races on the Continent over the coming weeks, such as Paris-Tours, but after a roller-coaster season Wiggins is relieved to have the chance to take time away from competition. "I'll enjoy the rest, but what I'm looking forward to above all is a mental break," he said. "It's been quite a stressful year."

A professional for the previous two seasons with Française des Jeux, Wiggins joined another French team, Crédit Agricole, on a 12-month deal at the turn of the year. He did not make the best of starts, going down with influenza and subsequently struggling to find his form.

Having not been selected for the Giro d'Italia, Wiggins then found himself without a place in the Tour de France, after making it clear to his employers that, with his year geared to the track cycling events at the Olympics, he would have wanted to pull out of the Tour before it reached the mountains.

"In hindsight, I think being ill was the best thing that happened to me," Wiggins said yesterday. "It helped to be held back from training too hard or pushing too hard to find my form, because it meant that I could really push myself later in the year. As it turned out, I found my form at exactly the right time."

Now the 24-year-old Londoner finds himself at a crossroads. While some cyclists are able to combine track and road careers, most specialise or at least prioritise.

Road racing is where the money is in cycling and where the big teams want their riders competing. However, Wiggins has not had the easiest of times as a professional - he did not take to living in France and now commutes to the Continent from Britain - and must wonder whether he could ever achieve on the roads what he has accomplished on the track.

"Crédit Agricole have expressed their interest in re-signing me and want to talk about the future, but I just haven't had time to think about it," Wiggins said. "In the cycling fraternity a lot of people have a lot of plans for me, but I have to decide what's right for me.

"The most obvious route is to explore what I can do on the roads, to have a go at the Tour de France and see what I can do in the prologues," he added. "But that needs a lot of commitment and sacrifice and time spent away from England. I have to decide whether that's definitely what I want."

Wiggins' speciality in the big stage races like the Tour de France would be the prologue time trials. His team would hope that he could take the leader's jersey at the start of the race and retain it for as long as possible, giving exposure to the sponsors and lifting the team's profile. He is unlikely to become a major contender for overall victories in the big tours, but they form only part of the racing calendar on the Continent.

Although he was brought up in Maida Vale in West London, Wiggins was born in Ghent, in Belgium, where his father, Gary, was a professional cyclist. His parents separated when he was only three years old.

A good footballer who had junior trials at West Ham, Wiggins decided that cycling would be his sport after watching Chris Boardman win gold at the Olympics in Barcelona in 1992. Boardman has since become his mentor and played a key role in preparing him for Athens.

In 1998, at the age of 18, Wiggins won the world junior pursuit title, a silver medal in the Commonwealth Games team pursuit and a bronze in the individual pursuit.

He won Olympic bronze in the team pursuit in Sydney - where he also missed out on a silver when his partner in the madison, Rob Hayles, crashed two laps from the finish - and crowned three more years of progress by winning the individual pursuit crown at last year's World Championships. He was the first Briton to win the title since Boardman did so seven years earlier.

Having crowned his track career with Olympic gold at the age of 24 - in a sport in which most riders reach their peak in their late twenties - Wiggins must decide whether he wants to do more of the same or to seek new challenges. For the moment, though, he is simply coming to terms with his new-found status.

"At breakfast this morning, I started to think 'I'm the Olympic champion'. I still can't believe it," he said. "It's a bit indescribable. More than anything, I feel a sense of relief that it's all over."