Bradley Wiggins has described Lance Armstrong as the “perfect” winner of the Tour de France in a book to be published this week and expressed pride at being part of the “group of nutters” who have won La Grande Boucle.
Wiggins won the Tour de France in 2012, though the achievement was called into question in 2016 when Russian cyber-hacking group Fancy Bears revealed that the Briton had availed of a therapeutic use exemption for triamcinolone ahead of the race. He has always defended his use of triamcinolone, citing asthma and allergies, but did not reveal details of his problems during his career.
Armstrong was stripped of his seven Tour de France victories in 2012 after a federal investigation provided USADA with evidence of the doping system in place on his US Postal Service team. The American confessed to doping in January of the following year. Armstrong's team manager Johan Bruyneel was banned for his part in the doping ring, with the Court of Arbitration for Sport recently giving him a life ban.
The Texan is the subject of a chapter in Wiggins’ latest book, Icons, in which he discusses 21 riders from cycling history.
Wiggins prefixes his comments on Armstrong by saying: “Look away now if you’re easily offended.”
Wiggins was 13 years old when Armstrong became world champion in 1993 and he was a fan of the American through his teenage years. Armstrong was already a triple Tour winner by the time Wiggins joined the professional peloton in 2002.
“It was during a bike race and he came up and rode alongside me,” Wiggins wrote of their first encounter in his book, according to a report in the Sunday Times newspaper.
“He said, ‘How you doin’ there, Wiggo?’ or words to that effect, and smiled at me. I felt 10ft tall because . . . well, because he was Lance Armstrong. Am I allowed to say that, or does it make me some sort of cycling heretic?”
Wiggins proceeds to insist that a Tour de France winner is “on occasion, borderline sociopathic” and “always a very special, very driven human being.”
“Therein lies the paradox of Lance’s having being stripped,” Wiggins continues. “His opponents didn’t necessarily like him, but [...] sure as hell respected him.”
Wiggins became the first British rider to win the Tour in 2012 but he would never again line out in the race. He missed out through injury in 2013 after abandoning the Giro d’Italia and was deemed surplus to requirements on a team led by Chris Froome in 2014. His final act as a Tour de France rider came on the Champs-Élysées in July 2012.
“I feel privileged to be a member of this group of nutters; we are not what you might call ‘normal’ people, but ‘normal’ certainly doesn’t win you the Tour,” Wiggins writes.
Wiggins had described Armstrong as a “lying bastard” in January 2013 following the American’s claim that he had competed clean at the 2009 Tour, where he denied Wiggins a spot on the podium.
Wiggins’ attitude towards Armstrong has softened considerably in the intervening period, as testified by an interview with TalkSport last week in which he said: "I see it more from the human side now. It is what it is. So much goes on in the world anyway, and there are so many bad things with this that or the other.
"Lance has paid the price heavily for what he's done. Okay the sport has suffered, but he wasn't alone in that. I think he's been singled out as well.”