By Gerard Knapp in Sydney
The New South Wales (NSW) Police Department has appointed a select team of detectives, being assisted by the NSW Homicide Squad, to investigate the death of the retired Australian track cyclist, Gary Wiggins – the father of the leading British pro rider and multiple Athens 2004 medallist, Bradley.
Wiggins Snr was found on the morning of Friday, January 25, on Segenhoe Street, Aberdeen, a town near the Australian centre of Newcastle, NSW.
A NSW Police spokesperson told Cyclingnews that 'Strike Force Durbin' had been set up to investigate his death, which detectives are treating suspiciously. The police spokesperson said the results of the post-mortem had not been released, though it is understood that Wiggins died from head injuries.
The formation of a special strike force is indicative of a highly serious crime conducted in NSW.
After he was found unconscious, Wiggins Snr, 55, was taken to Muswellbrook Hospital and then later airlifted to John Hunter Hospital where he died. The spokesperson said, "The circumstances leading up to Mr Wiggins' death are still to be confirmed and his death is being treated as suspicious at this stage."
He said that Strike Force Durbin, formed to investigate Wiggins' death, will comprise detectives from Hunter Valley, Lower Hunter and Newcastle Local Area Commands, with assistance from the State Crime Command's Homicide Squad.
Police are appealing for anyone who might have seen Mr Wiggins walking from McQueen Street, Aberdeen, towards Segenhoe Street about 21:00 on Thursday, January 24 to contact Crime Stoppers on (AUS) 1800 333 000.
Talented rider who succeeded in Europe
Wiggins Snr was born in 1952 in Yallourn, Victoria, and became a leading Australian cyclist, representing the country several times at the World Track Championships level, where he won gold in the kilo and teams pursuit in 1977, as well as silver in the 15km event. Wiggins first moved to the United Kingdom in 1976 and began racing as an amateur with the Archer Road Club, and after a successful stint he then based himself in Gent, Belgium.
While at the Archer Road Club he met British track star Tony Doyle, and the pair teamed up to ride the Six Day circuit in Europe, including victory at the immensely popular Bremen Six Day in 1985, an event that regularly attracted a crowd of 100,000. Wiggins Snr also won the European Madison Championship that same year with Doyle, and won a total of five European Championships.
In addition, he successful on the extremely competitive kermesse circuit, held during the warmer months in Europe. In the Belgian town of Eeklo, he won a major kermesse ahead of Belgian Lucian Van Impe, the 1976 winner of the Tour de France.
Back in Australia in 1985, Wiggins Snr also took out the Melbourne Cup on Wheels and a 1000-kilometre road race in Western Australia.
Wiggins met and married an English woman, Linda, and they had a son, Bradley, who was born in Gent in 1980. Bradley and his mother went to live in London after Gary returned to Australia in the late 1980s. It's understood that Wiggins Snr, while in irregular contact with Bradley, was enormously proud of his son's achievements on the track and road.
Bradley declined to comment to Cyclingnews on the matter due to the circumstances surrounding the death.
"A very, very good bike rider"
John Trevorrow, a former Australian road champion (and correspondent for Cyclingnews), was a childhood friend of Wiggins Snr. In fact, they both came from the same small Victorian town of Morwell, which had a population of less than 10,000 in the 1950s.
"He [Gary] was a very, very good bike rider," Trevorrow said. "I can remember we were both in this kermesse in Belgium, and we'd got into a break and were away for most of the race. We did get caught, and then the race split again, and Gary went in that break and then he went again and he won; that was pretty impressive.
"I kept thinking how it was funny that two of us from this small country town were racing together in Belgium and riding away from the field."
Trevorrow started riding with Wiggins as juniors. "I saw him as youngster who had talent, but then he went to England with [Victorian cycling coach, and UniSA team manager] Dave Sanders and that's when he took it seriously and after that he really turned into a superstar.
"I can remember I went to see him race at the Gent Six, and he didn't know I was there, and watching him he was easily the best bike rider there."
Trevorrow said Wiggins was one of the finest cyclists of his generation to come from Australia, although he was not that well-known or recognised in his country for his achievements on the bike.