A BRASS NECK

Paul Kim­mage: We’re not of­fended, we’re laugh­ing at Wig­gins

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Sport - - FRONT PAGE - PAUL KIM­MAGE

IT was a sunny Wed­nes­day morn­ing in April and Floyd Lan­dis had been sit­ting at his din­ing room ta­ble and check­ing his emails for 20 min­utes when I no­ticed that the mug he was drink­ing his cof­fee from was adorned with a pixie-faced draw­ing of Sir Bradley Wig­gins, the 2012 Tour de France win­ner and most dec­o­rated Bri­tish Olympian of all time. Floyd wasn’t a fan.

“I’m an Amish paci­fist,” he’d said a cou­ple of months be­fore. “But if I ever cross paths with Wig­gins I’m gonna punch him so hard, he won’t know what the fuck hap­pened . . . I hate that guy.” “So what’s with the mug?” I in­quired. “Do you like it?”

“No.”

“Yeah, that guy is just the worst,” he laughed. “He wrote in his book that I fucked up his life and ru­ined cy­cling for him, and then he heaped praise on Arm­strong. He knew Arm­strong was ly­ing but he made it per­sonal about me! Why do that? He doesn’t know me. He wasn’t even in the same fuck­ing zip code when we were rac­ing — he was so far back he wouldn’t have heard me if I’d yelled.”

“I know Floyd, I was there,” I laughed. The 10th stage of the 2006 Tour de France had just con­cluded in Pau. It was Wig­gins’ first Tour, and his first taste of the moun­tains, and he had rolled in over 17 min­utes down on the stage win­ner, Jean Miguel Mer­cado. The ex­pe­ri­ence had al­most bro­ken him.

“That first climb was just mind-blow­ing,” he said, as a helper wiped the dust from his face and of­fered him a drink. “There was one stage when I thought, ‘What am I do­ing here?’”

But his Cal­vary was just be­gin­ning. The next stage was a blaz­ing-hot ride across the Tour­malet, the Aspin, the Peyre­sourde, and the Por­tillon. A week later they had reached the Alps and three in­cred­i­bly tough stages over Alpe d’Huez, La Tous­saire and Morzine. Wig­gins dug deep and hung on to Paris and com­pleted his first Tour in 121st place — three hours and 24 min­utes be­hind the win­ner, Floyd Lan­dis .

I was happy he had made it and sent him a text af­ter the fi­nal moun­tain stage to Morzine: ‘Bloody well done mate.’ Within min­utes he sent a re­ply: ‘Thanks Paul, two beers at din­ner makes it feel sweeter.’ I liked and ad­mired Wig­gins and felt I could trust him.

I did not trust Floyd.

On the day af­ter ob­serv­ing Wig­gins at Pau, I’d watched Floyd take the yel­low jer­sey at Val d’Aran and made some notes: “One of the great joys of cov­er­ing the Tour is ac­cess to the rid­ers and I was so close to Lan­dis, the new race leader, that I could ac­tu­ally touch him.

“A helper handed him a bot­tle of water; he pulled off the top, took a swig and poured the rest over his head.

“He re­moved his jer­sey and tow­elled his sweat-cov­ered chest; ev­ery fi­bre of his body was twitch­ing. His Amer­i­can coach em­braced him with tears in his eyes. Five tele­vi­sion cam­era crews and at least a hun­dred hacks were wrestling for a com­ment be­fore he was taken away to the podium.

“I was more in­ter­ested in how he looked than any­thing he had to say; I scanned his arms and legs and the crack of his ass; I was look­ing for nee­dle-pricks and bruis­ing, the tell-tale signs of a guy who knows the game.”

A week later, Floyd tested pos­i­tive and in In Pur­suit of Glory, Wig­gins’ first au­to­bi­og­ra­phy, he did not hold back: “I felt phys­i­cally sick when I heard the news. My first re­ac­tion was purely selfish and re­lated only to me. ‘You bas­tard Lan­dis,’ I thought. ‘You have com­pletely ru­ined my own small achieve­ment of get­ting around the Tour de France and be­ing a small part of cy­cling his­tory. You and guys like you are piss­ing on my sport and my dreams. Why do guys like you keep cheat­ing? How many of you are out there, tak­ing the piss and get­ting away with it?’

“There is me trail­ing home 131st and, for all I know, I might be a top 50 rider if we all started on a level play­ing field. Sod you all. You are a bunch of cheat­ing bas­tards and I hope one day they catch the lot of you and ban you all for life. You can keep do­ing it your way and I will keep do­ing it mine. You won’t ever change me, you sods. Bol­locks to you all. At least I can look my­self in the mir­ror.”

And who could blame him? It was ex­actly how you would ex­pect some­one clean to re­act. But two years later af­ter he had strug­gled to fin­ish the Tour, and was walk­ing up hills in the Giro d’Italia, Wig­gins had trans­formed into a com­pletely dif­fer­ent rider and when Floyd was telling the world there was no such thing as Santa Claus — he had doped and wit­nessed Lance Arm­strong dope — Wig­gins was in­sist­ing that Santa Claus was real.

In On Tour, the sec­ond vol­ume of his au­to­bi­ogra­phies, he penned a long tribute to Arm­strong and de­voted a page to his ‘worst day on Tour” when I’d watched him in Pau.

“I (fin­ished), just, and vir­tu­ally col­lapsed half-dead across the line in Pau only to be greeted by jour­nal­ist Paul Kim­midge who seemed in ur­gent need of a long ex­clu­sive in­ter­view about my first Tour. At that pre­cise mo­ment I could only think of two words but they were enough.”

The no­tion that any jour­nal­ist, let alone one who had raced the Tour, would hang around at the end of a stage wait­ing for a “long ex­clu­sive in­ter­view” was com­pletely pre­pos­ter­ous; Wig­gins knew it was com­pletely pre­pos­ter­ous but even at that point — two years be­fore he would win the Tour — his pen­chant for play­ing fast and loose with the truth was be­ing in­dulged.

In My Time, the third vol­ume of his au­to­bi­ogra­phies, he wrote that he had “never had an in­jec­tion” — an im­pres­sive ad­mis­sion un­til those naughty Rus­sians, the Fancy Bears, hacked into his med­i­cal files and re­vealed a dif­fer­ent truth. We al­most wet our trousers on that one.

Floyd: “What a fuck­ing de­ba­cle. Wig­gins say­ing he’d never seen a nee­dle.” Me: (Laugh­ing)

Floyd: “Oh! I didn’t mean those nee­dles.”

Me: “I didn’t mean the ones they were shov­ing into my ass!”

Floyd: “They (Team Sky) made such a big spec­ta­cle about how clean they were, cre­ated this whole fake story that’s just in­de­fen­si­ble now: ‘Oh, we pay at­ten­tion to all the de­tails.’ And they don’t have any de­tails at all.”

Me: “Sorry, we didn’t write any­thing down.”

Floyd: “We don’t know what hap­pened.”

Me: “We didn’t or­der that testos­terone.”

Floyd: “We lost the lap­top.”

Me: “I don’t know how to use drop­box!”

Floyd (laughs): “A god-damn fourth-grader can use fuck­ing drop­box. The whole thing just . . . we don’t really need any more de­tails, a sen­si­ble per­son can draw the right con­clu­sion. So my anger at Wig­gins is (prompted) by him­self. I didn’t know him, and had no rea­son to think any­thing good or bad about him, but he made it per­sonal and he de­serves to get crushed.”

Me: “Sounds rea­son­able.” Floyd: “Look, what’s good for me is good for you, but you can’t have it both ways. He said that I pretty much de­served to have my life de­stroyed be­cause I re­fused to ad­mit the truth and now here we are.”

Where we were was a just-pub­lished re­port that had shat­tered Team Sky’s il­lu­sion of in­tegrity. A House of Com­mons se­lect com­mit­tee had con­cluded that Wig­gins and Team Sky had crossed an “eth­i­cal line” and abused the anti-dop­ing sys­tem to al­low the ad­min­is­tra­tion of per­for­mance en­hanc­ing drugs.

But six months later, it’s as if the re­port never hap­pened.

The storm sur­round­ing Chris Froome’s pos­i­tive test for salbu­ta­mol has abated. The Tour win­ner, Geraint Thomas, has been in­ter­viewed by all and sundry and af­forded the eas­i­est of rides. And ‘Sir Wiggo’ is mak­ing head­lines again with an­other book.

Icons, his “love let­ter to cy­cling”, is a se­ries of por­traits of his rac­ing heroes; Fausto Coppi, Jacques An­quetil, Miguel In­durain, Tom Simp­son and, wait for it — ta-da! — Lance Arm­strong. “Look away now if you’re eas­ily of­fended,” Wig­gins writes by way of in­tro­duc­tion, as if the glare from his ex­tra­or­di­nary brass neck would of­fend any­one.

We should not be of­fended that it’s only five years since he was de­scrib­ing Arm­strong as a ly­ing bas­tard, and ad­mon­ish­ing a young team-mate, Joe Dom­browk­ski, in The Sun­day Times for wear­ing a Live­strong wrist­band: “Get that fuck­ing thing off you.” We should not be of­fended that he once de­scribed dop­ers as “piss­ing on my sport and my dreams.”

But we’re not of­fended, we’re laugh­ing. What an ass­hole.

‘He said that I de­served to have my life de­stroyed’

‘We should not be of­fended that it’s only five years since Bradley Wig­gins was de­scrib­ing Lance Arm­strong as a ly­ing bas­tard’

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