Wiggins set for crowning glory
Growing up with posters of Spain's Miguel Indurain and Belgian Johan Museuuw on his wall, Bradley Wiggins dreamed of leading the Tour de France for one day.
That day came two weeks ago when he took the yellow jersey, keeping the coveted shirt all the way to Paris, which will mark the end of a long, rocky journey.
"All that stuff has not sunk in yet. I realise what the Tour de France means, I've realised what I've accomplished but it does not make it easier to sink in," an emotional Wiggins told a packed news conference after winning the race's penultimate stage on Saturday.
"The last 10 kilometres I was thinking about things to spur me on to go even harder.
"I was just thinking back to my childhood, my father leaving us when I was a kid, growing up with my mum in a flat and then my grandfather brought me up, he was my father, my role model. He died when I was on the Tour two years ago," added the Briton.
Wiggins grew up watching Indurain win the Tour in the early 1990's while other children were "dreaming of lifting the FA Cup.
The 32-year-old, however, did receive a message from Premier League soccer player Joey Barton.
"He said he particularly liked me swearing the other week," said Wiggins, who briefly lost his temper when quizzed about doping in the sport.
Wiggins is now about to surpass his heroes Tom Simpson and Robert Millar as he is set to become the first Briton to win the Tour after spending three weeks living in a bubble, battling his way through going through hordes of fans and reporters after each stage.
"It's like being a mass murderer going into court, it's that craziness, it's not reality, really," said Wiggins.
"The thing I kept reminding myself in the last three weeks, is that it is only sport at the end of the day and it's not life and death, because on the Tour you can lose that sense of reality."
Surrounded by a meticulous staff, Wiggins has kept his feet on the ground throughout the race after the disappointments that followed his fourth place overall in 2009.
He was only 23rd in the 2010 Tour and broke his collarbone in a crash on the seventh stage last year.
"You need those disappointments to make you a stronger athlete especially after 2009, coming back with all the hype having signed for Team Sky and not living up to expectations," he said.
"It was a disastrous Tour (in 2010), the way I handled myself... It either makes you or breaks you. That was the turning point."
Ultimately, however, Wiggins remains the kid who watched the Tour on television.
"After crashing out of the Tour last year, I was at home to watch Cadel (Evans) in Grenoble win the Tour. I was inspired, I was a kid again. That's what cycling is about," said the Belgium-born Wiggins.
"What drives me is my love of the Tour, my respect of the sport. It goes back to my childhood. I grew up with posters on my wall of Indurain, Museuuw. I was telling myself 'if I can lead a race like the Dauphine or the Tour de France for one day'."
His victory has been a calculated one in a sport that begs for romance, but it is a sign that cycling, which has been battling doping, is cleaner, according to Wiggins.
When the pace set by his Sky team mates in the climbs was high, it made it almost impossible for his rivals to attack.
"I think the Tour is a lot more human now and maybe if people want to see these incredible 220-km lone breaks in the mountains, maybe it's not realistic to think that anymore as wonderful and magical as they were to watch.
"If we're riding 450 watts, someone would need to sustain 500 watts in a 20-minute climb to stay away, it's not possible anymore, unless you've got an extra couple of litres of blood.
"That's the reality of it."