Enigmatic, charismatic, outspoken… there’s no shortage of opinion on Sir Bradley Wiggins but few will begrudge the 34-year-old a moment’s reflection as his a memorable Team Sky career concluded at Paris-Roubaix.
Wiggins’ career has seen no shortage of highs and he went into his last race in Team Sky colours bidding to become only the 15th rider to win both the Tour de France and Paris-Roubaix. A stinging attack with 30km got British hearts racing but ultimately it was a low-key end to Wiggins’ career, finishing 18th in a group 31 seconds behind John Degenkolb (Giant-Alpecin).
In the end, Wiggins wasn’t even the highest-placed Brit – that honour was reserved for the hugely impressive Luke Rowe, who had worked so hard for Wiggins in the front group, before securing a top ten finish for himself in eighth.
But Wiggins rode a smart race and, with the curtain coming down on five years at Team Sky, his place among the greats of British cycling is well and truly assured. The final chapter of his career will now see him move to the self-styled Team Wiggins on the UK domestic circuit and attempt to win a final Olympic gold medal on the track in Rio next summer.
Gold on the boards in Brazil would see Wiggins’ career come full circle after his first Olympic title in Athens in 2004. In the 11 years since Wiggins has established himself as cycling’s ultimate chameleon: a nine-time world and Olympic champion on the track, a Tour de France winner, world time trial champion and, briefly, a hardman of the cobbles.
Wiggins arrived at Team Sky from Garmin-Slipstream on the back of fourth place at the Tour de France in 2009, joining as leader of Britain’s new WorldTour super team. And while Wiggins’ first two appearances at the Tour for Team Sky ended in disappointment, with a below-par performance in 2010 and a broken collarbone the following year, he fulfilled Sir Dave Brailsford’s bold – and often scoffed at – prediction of delivering a first British Tour de France winner within five years. In fact, Wiggins topped the podium two years ahead of schedule.
Of course, Wiggins’ Tour win wasn’t his only triumph in the summer of 2012, and was quickly followed by Olympic time trial victory. While Wiggins has failed to match the highs of that annus mirabilis, with his much-publicised falling out with Chris Froome generating almost as many headlines, there has been plenty of success since.
Wiggins was crowned Tour of Britain winner in 2013, enjoyed Tour of California success in 2014 and added the world time trial championship to his palmares in September, with his final Team Sky victory coming in the rainbow skinsuit at the Three Days of De Panne in the build-up to Paris-Roubaix.
In truth, that final Paris-Roubaix appearance will read as only a footnote on the concluding page of Wiggins’ Team Sky story, but again he proved his class and adaptability with two strong attacks.
Wiggins will now pass the Paris-Roubaix baton to Rowe, Geraint Thomas and Ian Stannard – three young British riders who will have benefited hugely from the pivotal role Wiggins has played in revitalising the sport. Indeed, Wiggins’ impact off the bike, in putting cycling back in the limelight in the UK, serving as a role model to aspiring riders, and providing the initial success which led to the formation of Team Sky, which will serve as his lasting legacy.
Wiggins’ career is far from over, even if his time riding cycling’s biggest races has come to an end, and there are no doubt a few more thrills and spills to come on the road to Rio.
But a memorable chapter came to an end as he climbed aboard the Team Sky bus for the final time after Paris-Roubaix – a trailblazing chapter which came with unprecedented success, thrilling a nation and putting British cycle sport firmly on the map.