Sir Bradley Wiggins has told talkSPORT of how disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong changed his life and was the inspiration that helped shape his celebrated career in the sport.
‘Wiggo’ joined Jim White on Wednesday for an EXCLUSIVE chat about his new book, ‘Icons’, in which he dives into his vast jersey collection and explores the careers of 21 of cycling’s most historic figures.
There is little doubt Armstrong is one of them – the American poster boy who came back from a cancer battle to win seven consecutive Tour de France titles, to then be stripped of them all after arguably the biggest doping scandal in sporting history.
Armstrong’s crimes are unforgivable for many involved in the sport, having a huge blank space on the cycling record books.
But Wiggins has admitted he and Armstrong – who he still talks to, from time to time – will always share a connection that, since his retirement from competition in 2016, he has realised is stronger than he ever thought.
Speaking to talkSPORT, he said: “When I was 13 and I was living in a council estate in London, he won the world title in Oslo and he was 21 years of age, and I was enthralled by it.
“I went out on my bike the next day and thought I was Lance Armstrong. Nobody can ever take that away from me, that feeling of freedom and going out on the bike and being inspired by him.
“He’s iconic for good and bad reasons now, whether people like it or not. But, for me, I can’t change the way it made me feel when I was 13. It changed my life.
“I’ve realised that actually this guy has been part of my inspiration and part of my life more than I ever really thought.
“I never realised then, that 16 or 17 years later I would be going toe-to-toe with him on Mont Ventoux for a podium place at the Tour de France.
“To say he’s a hero of mine is a bit strong.
“I still speak to him and I last spoke to him a couple of weeks ago. I know him as a person post-cycling, and after all that he’s been through.”
talkSPORT’s Jim White: Has he apologised to you? “No, he doesn’t need to apologise to me, I don’t expect an apology.”
JW: But he tarnished the sport you love, Bradley. “Yeah, but so many people did.
“That’s not condoning what he did, not for one minute, but once you come out of cycling, I see it more from the human side now and it is what it is.
“Lance has paid heavily for what he did. OK, the sport has suffered, but he wasn’t alone in that. I think he’s been singled out as well.”
Asked if he was angry by the revelation of Armstrong’s prolific use of performance-enhancing drugs, in a scandal described as ‘the most sophisticated, professionalised and successful doping program that sport has ever seen’, Wiggo added: “I wouldn’t say I was angry.
“I saw it more as an inconvenience for me because I’d won the Tour de France and it came out a couple of days before a media day with Team Sky.
“I have an opinion on it and not everyone is going to like it, but I’ve moved on now and I can see the world from a different perspective and it’s not just cycling.
“Yes, cycling has been damaged, but there’s a lot of people to blame for that and there’s been a lot of corruption in the sport in the past and the way it’s been run.”
Wiggins also spoke about his infamous relationship with former Team Sky team-mate Chris Froome, who was dubbed the ‘super-domestique’ for Wiggo’s 2012 Tour de France win, before becoming team leader and since going on to win four Le Tour titles, plus wins in the Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a España.
First asked about his relationship with Armstrong…
JW: So Armstrong is a pal? “Err, I wouldn’t say that. We’re not big friends and we never have been, but I think there’s a mutual respect in terms of what we went through, racing each other up those climbs.”
JW: Is Chris Froome a pal? “No.
“No, what do you want me to say? I have a huge amount of respect for him as an athlete but, as people, we never got on.”
Listen back to Sir Bradley Wiggins on talkSPORT IN FULL above.