Bradley Wiggins honoured in Kilburn at last

Wiggins Sculpture

It’s been a long time coming but in the wake of Bradley Wiggins’ astonishing achievements in 2012, his secondary school in South Kilburn now looks out over a shiny new sculpture that commemorates these and the rest of his illustrious career.

If you’ve been on another planet for the past few years then you’ll still have been aware of Sir Brad’s palmares. It would be hard to top being the first Brit to win the Tour de France, but Brad, who grew up in South Kilburn and went to St Augustine’s School, went on to win gold in the men’s time trial at the London Olympics, adding to his already impressive medal haul from previous games.

In the aftermath of this, everyone was clamouring to claim him as their own and there was a push for a victory parade down Kilburn High Road. Sadly this never came to pass but, on the eve of Wiggins winning the Tour of California (proving there’s plenty of life in the old mod yet), a sculpture has been unveiled at St Augustine’s sports centre, across the road from the school.

The sculpture is the work of artist Sophie Marsham, who was helped by Year 8 students from St Augustines, and the project was supported by Groundwork London and the South Kilburn Trust.

Wiggins puts Kilburn (roughly) on the map

Kilburn has amorphous borders. Estate agents will do anything to avoid labelling a street as being in Kilburn, so it’s rather refreshing that someone at the very top of their game, someone kids should look up to, someone who calls it like he sees it; that someone like that should identify himself with Kilburn.

I’m a bit older than Bradley Wiggins, the first British winner of the Tour de France [and now 4 times Olympic champion], but, like him, my schoolboy bedroom walls were covered with photos ripped out of Cycling Weekly. My heroes were Greg LeMond and Robert Millar; Richard Virenque and Laurent Jalabert; Charly Mottet and Tony Rominger. For more than 25 years I’ve cheered on these riders on television, or from the side of the road. In short, I really love pro cycling despite all the depressing news that often surrounds it.

Wiggins on the penultimate stage of the 2012 Tour (Wikipedia Creative Commons)

This also means that like all cycling fans I’ve known about Bradley Wiggins for many years. After all, he won his first Olympic medal in the 2000 Sydney Olympics and is tied with Steve Redgrave as Britain’s most medalled Olympian [now of course he’s overtaken Steve but is behind Chris Hoy]! He’s always been a bit of an oddball mind you – especially when compared with the clean cut superhero figure of Chris Hoy. Wiggins is a bit irascible, a rider with incredible lungs and an incredible heart. He’s not a smooth media operator like Lance Armstrong. He doesn’t read off the script. He is, as has been cited ad nauesum in the press, the self-styled “kid from Kilburn“.

Wiggins on the Champs-Elysées (Wikipedia Creative Commons)

When it looked as if Wiggins was going to fulfil his promise as pre-race favourite, journalists delved more seriously into his Kilburn background. He wrote in his autobiography that he grew up in Paddington, while acknowledging that everyone called it Kilburn. The press are interested, I guess, because people tend to have a very definite impression of Kilburn – and it’s not one that you’d associate with incredible sporting prowess although there’s really no reason why you shouldn’t.

But Wiggins has quite literally put Kilburn on the map. Revered French sports paper L’Equipe had to show its readers where Wiggins grew up. He himself was quoted in the French press over the past few days saying that people from Kilburn end up as postmen, milkmen, or worked in Ladbrokes. Not winners of the toughest cycle race there is.

L’Equipe’s map of London via @mascart

Not that Kilburn – wherever its borders may be – can claim to have played a large part in his success. At St Augustine’s school he was good at sport but played football. It was his mother who fostered his cycling. Wiggins wrote that no-one at school had any idea he was into bikes, even when he became British schoolboy champion in the points race in 1995.

In 2002, Wiggins moved to France spending six years with various French teams, even though he was far more famous for his exploits in a Team GB vest careering round the track. He speaks fairly fluent French – not bad for the boy who wasn’t noted for his academic abilities while at St Augustine’s.

Since news broke of Wiggins’ Kilburn ties, there has been a lot of good natured chat with people who live across the border in W9 a.k.a. Maida Vale. They point out, quite correctly, that he actually lived and went to school in Westminster (although St Augustine’s is linked to a parish that straddles Westminster, Camden and Brent). His mother still lives in Dibdin House, where Bradley grew up, and she and Wiggins’ half-brother both work at St Augustine’s today. No-one seems to have found out how he ended up competing for Camden in the London Youth Games.

Politicians are never known to miss a passing bandwagon and there is a call from one councillor for Wiggins to be given the freedom of Westminster. Hard to believe he’d be interested. There are calls for streets in the area to be named after him. Nice idea I suppose. There is quite a groundswell of support for him to ride down the Kilburn High Road in some sort of parade. I confess I rather like this idea – not least because for someone who grew up at the intersection of three boroughs, this would give a nod to them all. But also because he’s definitely captured the imagination of locals, and maybe he might just inspire the next kid from Kilburn.

But lets remember this is a man who has settled in Eccleston, Lancashire and who trained at Herne Hill velodrome. Young Bradley wasn’t time trialling up and down the A5 behind the 98 bus; and if the school wasn’t helping him further his cycling ambitions, then I’m not sure local politicians from today or from the 1990s can bask in Wiggins’ reflected glory.

Of course I’ve engaged in some of this back and forth over Wiggins’ Kilburn connections – and was amused to read that his parents briefly lived on West End Lane before Bradley was born. Such things are entertaining. But I really don’t care. I’m just delighted that after 25 years of watching the Tour de France, someone who is quintessentially English – forget the Australian father and the Belgian birthplace, he’s a mod for christ’s sake! – has lived up to his potential and conquered the quintessentially non-English Tour de France.

Allez Wiggo

Bradley Wiggins the cycling champion from Kilburn wins the Tour de France

Bradley Wiggins in the 2012 Tour De France (Wiki Commons)
History was made yesterday, 22 July 2012, when Bradley Wiggins became the first Englishman to win the Tour de France and so become Kilburn’s most famous sportsman.
The sport is in his blood. His mother Linda Cozens met handsome Gary Wiggins, an Australian professional cyclist, at Paddington Recreation Ground. In 1976 they moved into a house in West End Lane and got married at St Augustine’s church in January 1979. They went to live in Ghent, a centre for cycling, where Bradley was born on 28 April 1980. Unfortunately, Gary had a drink and drugs problem, and was nicknamed ‘Doc’ on the circuit because he used and sold amphetamines. He dumped Linda, when Bradley was only two years old.
In December 1982 she returned to her family home in Kilburn and Bradley grew up in Dibdin House, on the edge of Kilburn and Maida Vale. Dibdin House is a large block of flats owned by the Church Commissioners and was built in 1937. (Gary later returned to Australia and in January 2008 was found beaten up, unconscious, and died soon after in hospital).
Dibdin House, 2012 (Dick Weindling)
Bradley, who went to St Augustine’s school, was keen on football but as he said, ‘cycling was in his blood’. Every Thursday he walked to WH Smith in Kilburn to buy a copy of ‘Cycling Weekly’. He cut out the pictures of his heroes and stuck them on the wall. As a shy 12 years old he regularly rode the eight miles to Herne Hill Velodrome and began track racing.
Main entrance to Dibdin House, 2012 (Dick Weindling)
Bradley married Catherine Cockram in 2004 and they have two children. He became world champion in 2003 and 2007; won two Olympic gold medals in 2008 and was awarded a CBE. But he suffered periods of self-doubt and was helped by fellow cyclist Chris Boardman and Steve Peters, the Team GB Cycling Psychiatrist, who said he sees Bradley as a tiger who he ‘feeds’, but who then disappears and only re-appears when he is ready. He was also mentored by head coach Shane Sutton and achieved great success on the track. But he wanted to race on the road and eventually joined the French team Cofidis. Angered by the 2007 doping revelations in the team, he left, saying he would never ride for them again.

In December 2009 Wiggins was persuaded to join the newly-formed British-based ‘Team Sky’ for a large fee. Performance analyst Tim Kerrison realised Bradley needed to up his training regime and they worked hard on the mountain climbing sections of the races. Things looked good in the 2011 Tour de France until Bradley crashed and broke his collarbone.

Bradley Wiggins (Wiki Commons)
Everything came right for the 2012 Tour and Bradley won the punishing three-week 2,172 mile race.
He left his team celebrating in Paris last night to return to the UK and start preparations for the London Olympics.

He won Gold in the Olympics and was Knighted in the Queen’s New Year’s Honour List in January 2013.