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Bradley Wiggins: Building the brand

Bradley Wiggins celebrates after winning gold in the Men"s Individual Time Trial Road Cycling at the London 2012 Olympic Games Image copyright Getty Allsport

Between the heights of "Wiggomania" in the summer of 2012 and now, Sir Bradley Wiggins has slowly transformed himself as a public figure, preparing the road for his post-Rio career, writes Alex Murray.

In 2012, "Wiggo" became the first British man to win the Tour de France and Olympic gold in the same year. Not bad for a working-class boy, raised by a single mum in north London.

The haircut, sideburns and long frame, the dry British humour and spiky, rock'n'roll personality - as well as the litany of achievements - in brand terms, it's a winning combination.

But while other sporting stars swapped the golden glow of London for endorsing everything from mineral water (Sir Chris Hoy), to meat substitutes (Mo Farah) and life insurance (Jessica Ennis-Hill), there were very few products associated with the Wiggins name.

It wasn't that he didn't have relationships - fashion brand Fred Perry and his team sponsor Sky, among others - it's just that he's not a face-on-a-cereal packet type of sportsman.

Image caption Suits you, Sir: Wiggins is known for his love of fashion, including the clothes of British designer Sir Paul Smith

But instead of enjoying the heights, what came next were "the hardest two years of my life", he says.

'I'm a racer, not a fundraiser'

A key part of his public image immediately after the Olympics was his charitable foundation, established with the aims of "encouraging participation in sport" as well as supporting the next generation of athletes.

It hosted a lavish Yellow Ball to raise funds in October 2012, which fitted perfectly with Wiggomania - a "best clobber" dress code, his favourite bands, a boozy rock'n'roll celebration of Brad.

Image copyright Bradley Wiggins Foundation
Image caption Tickets started at £495 for the Yellow Ball

It also organised "Ride With Brad" charity events, but the rides struggled to cover their costs and the Charity Commission raised concerns about how funds were being spent on sponsoring athletes. Wiggins had to cover losses from his own pocket.

While preparing for the Tour of Britain in 2014, he told the Guardian that he was winding down activities. He would later admit: "I'm a racer not a fund raiser you know."

For a star trying to build a reputation as inspiring and supporting the next generation, the negative capital attached to the foundation's activities was a heavy price.

From Wiggo to Sir Bradley

Behind the scenes Wiggins fell out with his management company, MTC, leading to reports in March 2013 that he was to join XIX Management, the home of David Beckham, and who had also helped transform Andy Murray and Lewis Hamilton.

Image copyright AP
Image caption 2013 was not a happy year

By the summer of 2013, Wiggins faced another tricky problem: he looked increasingly unlike a contender in multi-day races after an ill-fated attempt at winning the Giro d'Italia.

In July, he lost his unique position as Britain's only Tour de France winner as teammate Chris Froome succeeded him in Paris, while he sat at home injured.

When he was knighted for services to cycling in December 2013, he said: "It's just the end of the road in a sense, in that it tops off the closure of last summer as it were, even though it's more than a year ago."

Image copyright AP
Image caption "I've won a bike race, you know, and I feel a little bit inferior to everyone, really" - Wiggins on being knighted for services to cycling

With that, Wiggo became Sir Bradley, and he started to look for new ways to present himself to the public as a cyclist.

Froome rivalry

2014 got off to a poor start as details of his dispute with his former management company surfaced after legal action. The case was eventually settled out of court but it set the tone for a final period of uphill struggle.

The first mountain to climb would be selection for the 2014 Tour de France. XIX began work to deflate claims of a conflict with Froome, and Wiggins made conciliatory noises in interviews about supporting his rival's title defence.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Chris Froome (L) helped Wiggins win the Tour de France in 2012. The pair did not compete together in the race again

Wiggins and Team Sky started to pick races where it was unlikely there would be a conflict and where he could reassert his status as Britain's best-known bike rider, such as the historic Paris-Roubaix, in which he finished ninth.

Any hopes of Britain's two Tour de France winners taking on the world together were punctured by Froome's own account of the difficult dynamic between the two. Wiggins was not selected.

He then targeted and won a time trial title at the Road World Championships in the autumn, filling a notable gap in his achievements.

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionSir Bradley Wiggins wins world time trial title

After two years where it looked like his fire had gone out, the rainbow jersey reminded people that he was a winner.

Wiggins told La Gazzetta dello Sport "my time as a Grand Tour rider is over" as he set out his 2015 goals of winning Paris-Roubaix and breaking the hour record.

For the first time since 2012, Sir Bradley Wiggins had new goals that he could use to tell his story.

Cometh the hour, cometh the rebrand

Covering the furthest distance possible on a track in one hour has been how cycling's great champions leave their mark - Coppi, Merckx, Anquetil, Indurain all broke it during their careers.

And Wiggins knew he could take the record too after a rule change by cycling's governing body, allowing the use of endurance track bikes.

He closed his Team Sky road career by coming 18th in Paris-Roubaix and then went on to establish his own eponymous team.

The hour record attempt in June 2015 would be under his own flag, in his hometown, at the London Olympic velodrome.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Wiggins attempted the hour record in front of a passionate home crowd

In case there was any doubt, the biggest name on the kit was his own, emblazoned in golden letters. In a sport where showing off your sponsor is a key concept, it was a bold statement.

Visually, Wiggins was his own man.

In front of an expectant and passionate crowd, Wiggins delivered. He set a new record and drew a surprisingly large audience for the live coverage on television and online.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Wiggins celebrates his new hour record of 54.526km

The replica kit finally gave fans a chance to own a branded piece of the Wiggins story and has proved a popular range for luxury cycling brand Rapha.

Many existing sponsors transferred their association to the new team in order to maintain their link with Wiggins. The team name gives him a place in the sport that will endure beyond his own career.

"I want it to be a legacy now, I want this team to be here 10, 15 years down the line," he said in a recent documentary, adding that he hoped it would "inspire a lot of people along the way, just to even get on their bike".

Rio and beyond

Finally in July 2016, Wiggins delivered the most obvious product for a famous cyclist: a range of bicycles. But only for children.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Sir Bradley Wiggins tries to persuade Lewis McEvoy, aged 7, to buy a bike

The branding matches the identity created around his team. It focused on values he had sought to emphasise since 2012.

A man not just inspiring cycling, but making it accessible to everyone - a message that he can carry beyond his final Olympic Games.

Image copyright Halfords

By focusing as much on inspiring others as his own achievement, Wiggins has ensured that his name comes with more than just a yellow jersey or gold medal attached.

A medal in Rio is almost incidental.

Records can be broken, but reputations are harder won.

Sir Bradley Wiggins competes in the men's team pursuit in Rio. Qualifying takes place on Thursday, 11 August, with the finals on Friday, 12 August.

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