The 2009 Tour de France was an extraordinary experience for me and a pointer to what I want to achieve in future. It came about for lots of reasons but the bottom line was that, after Beijing 2008, I really had to give road racing the attention and dedication I had given my track career. In many ways it was now or never. That added the edge and impetus and then other things fell into place – a sensible diet, rock solid training uninterrupted by illness and injury, and in many ways an experimental season that was fun all the way. I was allowed by my team to branch out and really discover what I am good at, apart from Prologues, and to the surprise of many we discovered that I was actually a GC rider all the time. Better late than never, I suppose! Actually, it’s perfect timing. I’m 29 and Tour riders traditionally hit their peak between 29 and 33, so it’s not too late to work towards the ultimate – winning the Tour itself.
An impossible dream? We will see. There is nobody who admires [Spanish cyclist] Alberto Contador’s talent more than me, and I also rate [Luxembourg's] Andy Schleck enormously. They are both young and I doubt if they will be going away any time soon, so it’s a monumental task, but in many ways I have been here before. This is not unknown territory. There was a time when [Australia's] Brad McGee seemed simply untouchable in the individual pursuit, at least to me, so much so that I was often beaten before I even lined up against him. But I overcame that and eventually started reversing the role.
And then there were all those years when the GB Team Pursuit squad could never beat the Aussies or break through the magical four-minute barrier. For a long time it all seemed pretty hopeless and pointless but we had a major rethink, went to work and eventually cracked it. If you want it badly enough, these things can be achieved – just don’t expect it to be easy!
There is so much more I can do in the Tour. In 2009, for example, because I only belatedly felt I could make the top ten, I didn’t recce a single big climb in the months before the race. That could make a huge difference. Also I deliberately ‘over-raced’, if you like, in the early season, packing in various road experiences to help find what really suited me. I had a ball but next year perhaps I won’t race quite so much; instead I will concentrate a little more on specific preparations for next year’s Tour.
The bottom line is that 2009 has to be a start, not an ending. After the pain of my debut in 2006 and the humiliation of 2007 when I left the Tour under a police escort, I have belatedly discovered that probably the greatest thrill in cycling is ‘racing’ the Tour de France and fighting for the yellow jersey in the high mountains against the legends of sport. Sometimes your dreams come true and my dream is still to win the world’s greatest race outright.
In Pursuit of Glory by Bradley Wiggins is published in paperback by Orion at £8.99 and £4.99.