Bradley Wiggins has revealed that the death of his grandfather a week after the Tour de France marked a turning point in his season and perhaps even his career, when he stopped wallowing in self-pity, threw off the air of pompousness he had been using as a protective shield since signing with Team Sky, and began accepting why he performed so poorly at the Tour.
Speaking to the Guardian newspaper, Wiggins admitted it has taken him several months to get back to being his real self but is clearly happy to be back.
"Something happened after the Tour that put it into perspective. All of a sudden I stopped wallowing in self-pity," he revealed to the Guardian.
"I ended up in Hampstead for two weeks after the Tour, visiting a hospital every day, before my granddad died. But he was more than my granddad. He was like my father. He brought me up when Garry left," he said. "It made me realise there are many more important things than how I felt on the Tour – but it was also confusing. I'm not the most emotional person and I found it difficult to come to terms with his death. I find it hard to express grief. The way I tried to do it was by throwing myself into cycling – which meant [his wife] Cath didn't get me back for even longer."
Wiggins’ acceptance of his failure began a few minutes after losing further time to the overall Tour contenders on stage 14 to Ax-3 Domaines.
Before riding back down the mountain, Wiggins revealed his real emotions to the press for the first time. For most of the race he had tried to protect himself with a barrier, higher and more protective than the one Team Sky used to shield their riders as they warmed up for time trials. He threw in the towel on his Tour de France hopes that day but also lifted a huge weight of pressure and expectation from his own shoulders.
"I just don't have the form. I'm not going to lie to you. I'm trying my hardest and just battling on, rather than give up. It's as simple as that. I just haven’t got it like last year, it's as simple as that. I don't know why. I just feel consistently mediocre. Not brilliant, not shit, just mediocre. Just sort of plateau," he said at the time.
"I just haven’t got it right this year. We thought I had, but we haven't. Form is a funny old thing. It's hard to say why. You do everything right and you think you've got it right but I'm just not with the best guys this year."
Looking back at that moment, Wiggins told the Guardian: "At that point I felt on my own because the team bus was at the bottom of the mountain. There was no PR person to protect me but I thought: 'I'm not going to lie. I'm not going to hide behind smoke and mirrors.' I talked like I was talking to my family. Not many sportsmen do that. I showed everyone I was vulnerable and, in the end, people respect that more."
"You think it's the end of the world and you're completely alone in the whole saga but it's just sport. Sometimes it doesn't go to plan and things go wrong. Success is easy to take for granted. You look back at the Olympics and think: 'Oh, when I won that individual pursuit gold [in 2008] it was easy.' You forget the toll it takes and the hard work it needs. It's only when you lose that you realise how bloody hard it is. But it brings you down to earth with a thud and makes you concentrate on next year. That's the great thing about the Tour. There's always next year and the chance to rectify everything."
Hype and expectation
Wiggins admits that his self-analysis of his 2010 season has helped him understand what caused things to go so wrong.
"A lot had to do with hype and expectation,” he said. “I signed for the team and we had that press conference where, bang, the question came: 'Are you ready to win the Tour?' In 2009 I'd said: 'I think I can go top 20' and a press conference laughed at me. I went from that to people asking me if I could win."
“I ended up up my own arse a little – and it was so far from the truth it was unreal. I didn't do that a year before." More damagingly, Wiggins and Sky decided he should compete in the Giro d'Italia: "It felt like I'd spent all my tokens before the Tour. I took it easy in the 2009 Giro and the weather was fantastic and the course was nowhere near as severe. This year we pushed hard and I was seventh with a week to go – but, eventually, we broke. I then got sick and the Tour started disastrously."
"It just didn't feel as fluid and easy as the previous year, when I was riding on cloud nine. At Monaco, in 2009, I was third in the prologue and we [his former team, Garmin] finished second in the team time-trial. This year we had none of that."
Lessons learnt for 2011
In 2011 Wiggins will race more, target other races and avoid making the Tour de France the focal point that his life and season revolves around.
“We're still going to do everything possible to do well on the Tour, but we're not going to have the weight of expectation that one race, one performance, defines our whole year. We could also win Paris-Roubaix,” he said.
"Widening the focus will help. I remember coming back from the national road race in 2009 and, a week before the Tour, we stopped at a service station. I had a pizza and a couple of beers. This year I wouldn't have a little glass of wine in case it ruined my Tour. But a more relaxed Brad, after a glass of wine, would've had a much better Tour. When you look back it seems so simple and you think: 'What a dick!' I've learned my lesson."
Yet Wiggins refuses to give up on his ambition of wining the Tour de France or the more realistic goal of finishing on the podium in Paris. He knows that the possible absence of Alberto Contador in 2011 could change everything.
"The whole Contador thing is weird. I don't think it will ever get sorted out. Whether he gets sanctioned, or not, I don't think we'll ever get to the truth of what actually happened. It's a shame but I'm reserving judgment, who knows?” he said.
"But if Contador is not there next year – and there is a high chance he might not – that really opens it up. If he hadn't been there in 2009, I would've finished third. And if Lance Armstrong hadn't been there I would've finished second. Carlos Sastre won it [in 2008]. That was probably the only Tour he was ever going to win but he took his chance."
"I'm Bradley Wiggins. I'm capable of anything," Wiggins said with a hint of the ironic bravado that was so absent in 2010. "The day I realise that ..."
"I'm still after more evidence," he added "but I'm getting there. And, when I do, anything can happen."