PAU, France (Reuters) - For Bradley Wiggins, winning the Tour de France would be more the result of a three-year process than the end of a three-week race.
That epiphany hit Wiggins in 2009, when he finished an unexpected fourth overall and realized he could be riding laps around the Champs-Elysees with the yellow jersey on his shoulders.
“A few years ago I was failing as an athlete, I never really fulfilled my potential and I think the last few years with the right people around me I’ve started to realize my potential,” the 32-year-old Wiggins told reporters as the peloton enjoyed a rest day before two key mountain stages in the Pyrenees.
“I was capable of so much more and the people around me were obviously aware of that, it’s just getting those people to get that out of me.”
The Tour de France journey started for Wiggins, who was born in Belgium, in 2009 when he joined the Garmin team.
He lost weight and gained determination.
“That was the turning point, for once I was in a team where you could be yourself, there was no sort of stereotypes or cliques, because in every (previous) team you had to mould in to be like everyone else otherwise you wouldn’t fit in,” Wiggins, a triple track cycling Olympic champion, explained.
“That’s one of the reasons why I started to perform well.”
The father of two admits he lives in a “bubble” on the Tour and is not even aware of the interest his performances get across the Channel.
Cocooning himself in that bubble with his Team Sky mates is likely to be the key to him finishing the race with the yellow jersey on Sunday.
“You get really good at ignoring people I think it’s an incredible bubble to be in but in a nice way,” he said.
Being a father also helped Wiggins to get rid of habits that were not compatible with high level sport.
“Age helps a lot. You get older, things change in your life,” he said.
“Things you did to entertain yourself 10 years ago don’t apply to you when your kids are nearly 10, night clubbing, things like that, you don’t live for the weekend, you live for your children more and I think all that reflects to your professionalism, how you apply yourself to your job.”
This new approach has helped him to cope with the pressure of being within touching distance of becoming the first Briton to win the world’s most famous cycle race.
“Nothing really changes for me. I think you can get so drawn into ‘this is a life or death situation’,” he said.
”I used to be like that on the track a few years ago when I was in the Olympic finals when I was against Brad(ley) McGee ‘oh what am I gonna do if I don’t win this, what’s gonna happen to me they’re gonna send me to the gallows’.
“Your kids... are not really bothered by that, they don’t care. So those things help you handle these situations a lot better.”
In five days, Wiggins’s life could change, however.
“I understand some things will be different,” he said.
“It’s nice to be recognized for achieving something in your life because so much of the British culture is built up on people being famous for not achieving anything and I think it’s nice when people (...) respect you for something you achieved.”
Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Pritha Sarkar