McGee on Wiggins: “The bloke had complete reversal in attitude…”

If the current predicament that Bradley Wiggins finds himself in cannot be resolved – or even if it is – chances are he won’t be racing for Team Sky in 2015. That conclusion seems logical given that he’s been busy ‘auditioning’ for a spot in the Tour de France selection. Going on his recent comments, he believes he’s being overlooked despite his form as well as his past achievements.

Should he switch teams because of the terse relationship with Chris Froome, it won’t be the first time that he’s moved on because of a team-mate. The first true example, at the beginning of the 2005 season, related to respect for a rival and the need to distance himself from that person.

 

Bradley Wiggins after his first swap of teams... January 2005. Photo: Yuzuru Sunada

Bradley Wiggins after his first swap of teams… January 2005.
Photo: Yuzuru Sunada

 

Comments from colleagues: part 03 – McGee on Wiggins

 

– By  Rob Arnold

 

Bradley Wiggins’ first major rival was Bradley McGee. The pair were team-mates at FDJ early in their careers but at the end of 2004 the Brit moved to another French team, Crédit Agricole. The reason was pursuiting.

The pair were first and second in the individual pursuit at the Olympics in 2004 –Wiggins took the gold medal, McGee silver. They were friends. They had plenty in common. So how could they race together on the same trade team when they both wanted to achieve the same objective on the track with their respective national teams? Ultimately it wasn’t possible. Wiggins took his cue and departed…

Eight years later, Wiggins would be a Tour champion (with another Olympic individual pursuit gold medal, plus a team pursuit gold from the 2008 Games). And McGee was a directeur sportif for Alberto Contador when the Spaniard won the 2012 Vuelta a España.

At the end of the 2012 season, McGee spoke to RIDE about his relationship with Wiggins and what he believed the secret to his success is. It’s a while ago but the comments remain relevant because it gives us an insight into one of the more interesting personalities in professional sport.

“I watched the [2012] Tour de France a lot from here in Australia,” said McGee when asked if he followed the big loop around France. It was the Australian’s final year as a DS with the Saxo Bank team and his main objective that year was to assist Contador in his comeback to Grand Tour racing after his suspension for clenbuterol use. “I followed as much as I could.”

It was a revelation. A pursuiter became a Grand Tour winner. That’s what McGee had hoped to be in 2005: that was to be his season but it didn’t work out as planned. Although he was fully supported by FDJ in his quest, the best result on GC in a three-week race was eighth in the Giro d’Italia of 2004. That had given him some inspiration but he’d soon be brought back down to earth…

“It started well,” he laughs of the experience at the Tour de France in 2005, “but after the rest day they ripped it up – all of the Discovery [Channel] boys were on the front pulling to be the bottom of the final hill. I was quite disillusioned at the end of that day, I can tell you!

“Then I switched over pretty quickly and just said, ‘Righto… I’m going for stage wins.’ Ha!”

McGee’s career continued until a back injury forced him into the team car years earlier than he ever expected. By 2012, he was observing the biggest race of all from afar… and enjoying it.

“To be honest, I’ve become a big fan of Wiggo… because I’ve seen him grow up. I’ve seen where he’s come from and the challenges he’s had. He’s developed and matured into a fantastic sportsman.

“He’s younger than me by four years. We raced each other in the pursuit at the Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lumpur [in 1998] when he was just out of the juniors. He was bound to be The Next Big Thing.

“It’s just such a change in mentality from a bloke: a complete reversal. From a young, keen, talented rider who was just totally unrealistic about his capabilities – fuelled by whatever the English media does to a guy, or whatever… I don’t know. If not spiteful, he was certainly vengeful in many regards.

“He was quite irresponsible actually. He matured though. When he was pursuiting, when he was a young fella… he was more than just match-play. It was like, ‘I can beat him and I’ll be worth that much.’ He was really overemphasising results for a young bloke in the pro league. It was all about needing to be something more.

“A lot of people say you’ve got to be ambitious and stuff like that. But to me there was something else entirely that fuelled his fight and it just didn’t add up.”

 

Wiggins: individual pursuit world champion... 2003. Photo: Yuzuru Sunada

Wiggins: individual pursuit world champion… 2003.
Photo: Yuzuru Sunada

 

 

After the experience in Athens, the decision had been made: the pair had to split – they shouldn’t be on the same trade team – so, did they separate on bad terms? “No, not at all,” insists McGee. “At that stage it was just that he wasn’t able to beat me as often as he’d like. And that’s what I’m talking about: it wasn’t about spitefulness, it was just a mission. That was what he was fuelled on. And obviously it’s hard to function that way…

“He had a huge reversal that started when the British cycling got some momentum with Dave Brailsford; they brought in some shrinks, one guy in particular – I’ve forgotten his name – and he was quite a revelation in the ranks at that stage. He worked with a lot of their mainstream riders, Brad in particular. And by the time he won the gold medal [in the individual pursuit] in Athens, he was on his way to being this great, mature, outstanding sportsman that he is now.

“He’s a family man and I’ve known him and his missus for a long time. I’ve seen his kids grow up and things like that. And he’s just perfect.

“You could never have imagined that going back to the early days of FDJ and Crédit Agricole.”

He was a wild man? “I wouldn’t say that. But I do remember him letting himself get lose there in Nice in the pub a couple of times. And you could tell that there was a huge ball of energy bubbling under the surface. He knows how to have a good time but he’s able to just stay out of trouble. He’s had to keep that in check.

“Whatever that energy is, he’s learned how to harness that with what I believe is working with these individuals at British Cycling over the years.”

McGee believes a real catalyst for the change in attitude from Wiggins came from the death of his father, Gary, in January 2008. “I don’t like to highlight that,” he said, but I think it’s all part of it.

“He never really spoke about Gary but I remember a very odd meeting between the two. I bought Brad out [to Australia] for the Jayco-Herald Sun Tour when [their team-mate] Baden Cooke won [2002] and his old-man rocked up unannounced. I was like, ‘Brad, look your dad is here…’ that kind of thing. And I could instantly tell that that wasn’t necessarily a great thing. But they played it fairly low key.

“I did get the feeling that Gary’s death might have been one of the biggest legacies he had up until that time.

“It’s been said that you’re never a real man until your old-man passes away. I think in that case, it was a big influence. At the same time he was married and had young kids and stuff like that.

“Again, in a nutshell, the bloke just had complete reversal in attitude and mentality and maturity. I actually feel quite fortunate to have witnessed that. It actually is possible even under the pressure of bloody international media scrutiny.”

 

• Parts one and two of the ‘Comments from colleagues’ – Geraint Thomas • Richie Porte • 

 

Author: rob@ride

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