Britain's most decorated Olympian ponders what is next
RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) Peel back all those layers of fashionable mod clothing that Bradley Wiggins prefers when he's not on the bike and you'll find the beating heart of a sentimentalist.
It's why he returned to his first love, track cycling, after conquering the Tour de France.
It's why he returned to the Olympics for one last shot at glory.
It's why he intends to wrap up his long, decorated cycling career later this year at Six Days of Ghent, the first bike race that his father took him to as a child - long before Wiggins would become the most decorated Olympian in British history.
''I have to go back to my next kind of historical base,'' he said late Friday night, after leading the British pursuit team to the gold medal at the Rio Games, the eighth Olympic medal of his career.
''My first memory as a child was to be there with my dad when he was racing it,'' Wiggins added, almost wistfully. ''It'll be a nice end to my career, back where I was born, back where it started.''
The road in between was certainly one for the history books.
Wiggins first made a name for himself at the 2000 Sydney Games, a 20-year-old upstart helping Britain win team pursuit bronze. But it wasn't until the Athens Games four years later, when he won gold, silver and bronze in three different events, that he truly made the world take notice.
He was the first British athlete in 40 years to win three medals at a single Olympics.
Wiggins had more success at the 2008 Beijing Games, winning gold in the team and individual pursuits, before turning his full attention to the more lucrative and glamorous world of road racing.
Many people thought he was crazy when he expressed his desire to become the first British winner of the Tour de France. Wiggins is gangly and powerful, attributes that suit him perfectly in the controlled environment of a velodrome but aren't so good for climbing in the Alps.
Yet over the span of several years, he virtually re-designed his body. He became leaner, stronger and built up his endurance, becoming the centerpiece of the powerhouse squad of Team Sky.
He accomplished his goal in the unforgettable summer of 2012.
A few weeks later, he completed a rare double by winning the time trial at the London Olympics, rooted on by a home crowd at Hampton Court Palace still relishing his yellow jersey in Paris.
Wiggins came to a crossroads at that point, not quite sure which direction to take his career. He ultimately began a slow retirement from the pressures of road racing, only to decide that he wanted to take one last stab at an Olympic medal in the team pursuit - the event that started it all.
Inside the hot velodrome at the Rio Olympics, Wiggins managed to accomplish yet another goal.
''Bradley is a freak of nature, at the end of the day,'' British teammate Owain Doull said. ''It's just a testament to how talented an athlete he is that he can just pick a goal, whether that's the Tour de France or Paris-Roubaix or the Olympics, and he can go and get it.''
Wiggins was tied with retired track cyclist Chris Hoy with seven medals apiece before winning his gold Friday night. It was his fifth gold medal to go with a silver and two bronze medals.
''You ask anyone from any country, anyone who has ever raced him - he's one of the world's best,'' said Jack Bobridge, who has competed against Wiggins on the road and was part of Australia's silver medal team that lost to Britain in Rio. ''When he talks the talk he walks the walk.''
He did it in memorable fashion, too. Wiggins helped push the team of Doull, Ed Clancy and Steven Burke to a time of 3 minutes, 50.265 seconds in the finals, lowering their own world record.
''He's just a phenomenal athlete. It comes down to that, I think,'' Bobridge said. ''When he wants something he can get it. If anybody said they don't look up to him, they'd be lying.''
Not everything has been smooth sailing for Wiggins.
He is a staunch opponent of doping in cycling, an altruistic stance but one that sometimes upset the establishment in a sport where performance-enhancing drugs had become endemic. Wiggins also began to drink heavily after his early success, though he stopped following the birth of his son.
For the most part, though, everything Wiggins set out to do he's accomplished.
''It's just more relief than anything,'' he said after his gold-medal effort. ''I can wake up Monday and not have this as a burden. You live with it every day. It's gone now.''
Wiggins plans to ride the Tour of Britain next month, then tackle a few six-day races - track events where teams of two riders see how far they can ride over six days of competition.
It will all end at the Six Days of Ghent, the one that holds so much meaning to him.
''I take it back to Sydney in 2000 and what that meant to me as a 20-year-old, wandering around there,'' he said. ''I came away with a bronze medal there and I thought to myself, `This is it. If I have to go to the job center tomorrow and get a job, I can say I have this bronze medal.' And to be 16 years on with five gold medals myself, I never imagined that for one minute.''