Warning: never touch or take hold of Tour de France champion Bradley Wiggins’ arm.
An older Italian gentleman got a little pushy about getting a photo or autograph at the Giro del Trentino and did something outrageous — he took hold of Wiggin’s right arm.
Already looking annoyed and irritated by the existence of the media and generally burdened by the demands of stardom, Wiggins was in no mood for the unrequested physical contact.
He gave the guy a withering and disgusted look, shook his head, then proceeded to demonstrate to the offensive Italian what it’s like to have your arm grabbed and tugged at by some stranger.
Wiggins dislike of stardom is well-documented and we certainly can understand his frustrations. One of the joys of pro cycling for fans is the close access you get to your heroes and one of the frustrations of riders is the joy fans take in getting too close.
From the second a rider steps from the team bus he’s hit by a barrage of requests from both the media and fans. In the case of the media, it’s the same old routine of mind-numbing questions done in English, then French and maybe Spanish or Italian.
Fans press in and riders can barely make it to sign-in without being knocked over. How many races have we seen of late where riders were knocked off their bikes and out of contention by over-zealous fans leaning to far into the road. Ask Omega Pharma Quickstep’s Zdenek Stybar and Stijn Vandenbergh how much they appreciated losing a good shot at winning Paris-Roubaix until spectators ruined their chances.
However, Wiggins seems liked he has reached a consistent boiling point and we’re starting to wonder if things are going to escalate. Wiggins is going to punch somebody real soon and we’re thinking of the advice once handed out in the cartoon show Hey Arnold: “Simmer down ya hot-headed looney.”
Perhaps part of the problem for Wiggins is that he is a time trialer. They tend to be more cerebral and introverted and in their own world of pain and high performance. It’s a discipline for those who enjoy the isolation. And Wiggins documented in his new My Time biography, his time trial warm up routine is precise and meticulous and nothing must be allowed to disturb it.
Now Wiggins wasn’t riding against the clock that morning but the Brit simply doesn’t relate to the Italians’ more physical embrace of life. He’s a hands-off kind of guy and the English just don’t go in for the sloppy Latin hugs and kisses and hand shakes that pass for normal in Italy.
In this way, Wiggins is like another intelligent and funny and talented time trailer who doesn’t like the media or having his personal space tampered. That would be Garmin-Sharp’s Dave Zabriskie.
Last year after winning the Bakersfield TT in the Tour of California, Zabriskie was cooling down on his trainer when Garmin aero guru Robbie Ketchell came by to congratulate him on the big victory. Ketchell gave Zabriskie a pat on the shoulder then quickly apologized, saying “I’m sorry, I know you don’t like being touched.”
The Italian tifosi are famed for their passion but let’s hope for Wiggin’s sake that in the Giro d’Italia they restrain themselves in his presence. Perhaps a respectful clap of the hands and the Italian version of “good show.”
If not, the Brit might explode like Vladimir Belli did in the 2001 Giro, punching a fan in the face as he rode past.