Photography: Jonny Hines | Words: Harry Dowdney

Sir Brad and the Pursuiters

How Team WIGGINS joined racing’s main stage in style

Team WIGGINS are the rockstars of the peloton. A group of talented upstarts led by charismatic frontman Sir Bradley Wiggins, the team’s first year in 2015 was a debut to remember. Perfectly coiffed and smartly turned out in Rapha, the British UCI Continental team split their time between the boards and the roads, winning races and fans alike. The insouciance of youth and the guiding hand of an experienced star proved an irresistible combination, while matching Nike Air Max trainers and whistle-clean white Pinarellos completed the look.

Announced in late 2014, what might have seemed a farewell tour for Sir Bradley Wiggins is in fact the driving force behind Team GB’s Rio 2016 Team Pursuit aims. The key members of WIGGINS are all part of the golden GB endurance track squad and, Ed Clancy apart, should form the entire team challenging the so-called ‘boy band’ Australians in the blue riband event.

“The whole idea of the team was to set up a platform for ourselves and Brad to get ready for the Olympics,” says WIGGINS rider, and 2012 Team Pursuit World Champion Andy Tennant, adding that the longer term goal is “to inspire the next generation of riders and hopefully find the next Bradley Wiggins.” In 22-year-old Owain Doull (pictured below), who had a breakthrough year culminating in 3rd overall at the Tour of Britain and a gold in the European Track Championships, they might have already unearthed him.

Welshman Doull was actually on the verge of signing for WorldTour team Europcar when WIGGINS, a full two tiers lower, came calling: “At the time it was quite a hard choice to make, but looking back now it was one of the best decisions I’ve made in my life. I’ve had the opportunity to be competitive and get results on the road as well as building my track ambitions for Rio.”

Europcar’s loss has been WIGGINS’ gain, as the sight of Doull mixing with the peloton’s biggest hitters throughout the Tour of Britain, and then Tennant, Wiggins, and Jon Dibben leading him out through the streets of London on the final stage were real headline act spine-tinglers. “You could say there were a few celebrations on the ‘passion wagon’ afterwards,” says Dibben, referencing the team’s bright blue campervan, which acts as a rather cramped tour bus, dressing room and after-party venue all in one. “Sometimes you’ve got to be a bit careful what you put on the stereo in front of Brad because he’s quite selective about his music, but most of the time anything goes,” adds Doull.

When the team launched, Sir Brad said it was “about being with a great group and enjoying the ride with the fans.” Witnessing the bonhomie between the team’s riders and the crowds at the Tour de Yorkshire and Tour of Britain, it has been mission successful so far. Fans packed in for a glimpse of the Tour de France winner, as the team’s younger, lesser-known riders’ bemusement soon turned to enjoyment of the attention. “Having our little camper parked alongside the Team Sky bus definitely felt quite surreal,” says Dibben. “And the huge level of support put the focus on us a bit but a little pressure is always good.”

Indeed, with the British cycling knight’s name attached to it, the team comes under more scrutiny, but it also takes them to races that they wouldn’t normally enter. WIGGINS raced the Abu Dhabi Tour in October, and this year will step up further. Sir Brad ‘cracked’ America in 2014 when he won the Tour of California, and he has been invited back in May to race with the team, who are currently at the Tour of Dubai, another first. Fearless as ever, on Stage One on Monday, they swamped the front of the peloton in team pursuit formation, leading the race until a couple of kilometres to go.

Dubai has also seen the debut of a refreshed design of their much acclaimed Rapha kit for 2016, with the logo name spread across the chest and a large WIGGINS target roundel on the back. “I thought last year’s kit would be hard to top, but it’s great,” says Doull who, after years of wearing baggy foul weather gear, is enjoying being able to wear Rapha’s contoured Pro Team garments for the first time:

“I’ve had capes before which were essentially bin bags with arms – you felt like you were going nowhere in them. With the Rapha Race Cape, for example, it almost feels like a normal jersey. At the first race we did as a team, the Tour of Normandy, it was zero degrees on the first stage, 200km long and snowing, but we were wearing the Race Cape. The lads led me out from ten kilometres to about 300m to go and I think it showed we were a lot warmer than everyone else. It makes a big difference.”

Wiggins, who has ridden in Rapha racewear since 2013, agrees: “We looked sharp last year in the kit Rapha designed for us, and now with a few tweaks here and there I reckon we have the best looking kit in the peloton. It’s good to be able to give the young lads kit that fits and doesn’t flap around like a Tesco bag, especially when my name is on it!”

In all, it doesn’t look like Team WIGGINS will endure a difficult second album this year. As Sir Brad and the pursuiters keep the wheels spinning until Rio, the team will also debut eight new signings on the road. Each one a promising British or Irish Under 23, WIGGINS looks set to follow the successful model of Axel Merckx’s AXEON team, which has become something of a finishing school for aspiring pros in the US. Expect Wiggins to slip into the role of team leader and mentor at some point.

“For sure, there’ll be more of a road focus looking to the future and some fantastic young riders have just joined, particularly Scott Davies,” says Andy Tennant. “He’s going to be the next great climber we produce… I’ll put my hand up and say that.” With expectations like these and a growing roster of British talent, it’s fair to say that Team WIGGINS will have even more of a target on their back in 2016.

The new WIGGINS kit design will be available from April.