© Velo Collection (TDW) / Getty Images

Ben Wiggins on the podium at the UCI World Championships in Glasgow after winning a silver medal in the men's junior time trial

Ben Wiggins: The dream is to ride for Ineos Grenadiers one day

Exclusive interview with the newly-crowned world champion on why he picked Axel Merckx's development team for 2024 and the pressures of racing with the family name

Clock07:57, Thursday 31st August 2023

It’s been a whirlwind few weeks for Ben Wiggins.

After claiming a superb silver medal in the time trial at the UCI World Championships in Glasgow the up-and-coming star headed to Colombia where he picked up his maiden world title in the junior Madison. The Madison is a title synonymous with the Wiggins family with Ben’s father Bradley a two-time world champion at the senior level but for Ben, the rainbow jersey is just the start of what could potentially be a successful professional career.

Yet while comparisons between both generations are easy and almost inevitable there’s no doubting that the 18-year-old is not racing in anyone’s shadow as he strives to leave his own mark on the sport of cycling.

In an exclusive interview with GCN, Wiggins talks about his recent success, and why the parallels between the Wiggins dynasty and that of the Merckx household enticed him to sign for the Hagens Berman Axeon - Jayco team in 2024. 

Read more: Team Jayco AlUla and Hagens Berman Axeon to partner in 2024

The road and track specialist opens up about his dreams for WorldTour success, the positive influence his father has had, and how racing for Ineos Grenadiers is a long-term dream.

GCN: Firstly congratulations on the junior Madison world title. You got back from Colombia a couple of days ago, so how are you feeling?

Ben Wiggins: It’s not really sunk in yet, to be honest. It’s not a feeling that you can really describe because you work for it, and it’s been a dream of mine to be a world champion since forever. To do it is so surreal but it’s starting to sink in a bit but it’s a good feeling, that’s for sure.

GCN: You had the form at Glasgow Worlds where you won a silver in the junior time trial or was it a case of trying to juggle your training with back-to-back events?

Wiggins: Sort of but we’re going towards the end of the year now and it’s hard when you’re coming off that high of the time trial in Glasgow and then the next morning going back to training for Colombia. It wasn’t hard and I managed it but I did have a bit of a shocker in the week leading up to the Madison. The Madison salvaged Worlds for me, to be honest. I was eighth in the Omnium and then fourth in the Points race and I missed out on a medal in the last sprint but I wasn't racing like I normally do and I wasn’t really clear in my own head. It might have been the environment that was difficult to adjust to but with the Madison, it was with someone else and maybe it’s because they’re counting on you that you feel like you need to keep it together for one more race. In the end, something came over me and I was getting back to what I normally do. The stars aligned.

GCN: I’ve got to ask, where’s the rainbow jersey now?

Wiggins: It’s stuffed in a plastic bag right now because I’m going out with my mates tonight and I want to show them.

GCN: How are you feeling about the year you’ve had in terms of the goals you set for yourself and how the campaign panned out?

Wiggins: It’s been a surreal year, to be honest. I set out my goals towards the end of last year and all my main aims I’ve been able to accomplish. That’s a really nice feeling. Okay, I missed out on Paris-Roubaix but that’s Roubaix, isn't it? Anything can happen in that race but with everything else, it’s worked out. I said I wanted to win a stage race this year, and I’ve achieved that. I said I wanted to win a medal at the road Worlds, and I made that happen, and then the main goal this year was to become a world champion. I knew that I had a decent shot at that with the road and track Worlds, so it’s been a pretty mad year. I’m happy with how I’ve developed as well and from where I was at the start of my time as a junior to where I am now, I feel like ten times the bike rider I was back then.

GCN: Do you mean that in terms of strength, experience, confidence or just the whole package?

Wiggins: Everything really. Just for starters, my confidence has come on loads and when I think back to my first junior race I was bricking it and now I go into a race very confident that I can win it. Then in terms of strength and development, the whole package has come on loads in the last two years and hopefully, I can carry on with the same trajectory.

GCN: What do you put that career progression down to? I know you’re working with Giles Pidcock [ed. Tom Pidcock’s father] as a team manager but who else is in that support bubble for you?

Wiggins: Giles is my team manager and he’s been a big part of that. My coach, Stuart Blunt, who is the junior coach for British Cycling, I can’t thank him enough. He’s been through it all with me over the last two years, from winning the European points race last year, all the way to Sunday and the Madison. He was following me in the car at the Worlds in Glasgow and I put it all down to him. Obviously, then my friends, family, girlfriend, they’ve all done it just as much as I have and made sacrifices with me. I can’t thank them enough.

GCN: And you’ve got the Axeon team move coming up. That’s a great team to take that next step of your development with. What was the reason for selecting them as your future team? Was it because they’ll help you keep your road and track ambitions working in tandem or because Axel Merckx is such an experienced leader when it comes to developing talent?

Wiggins: My main priority was being able to do both road and track. I started talking to Axel around this time last year with just some initial conversations. Over the past few months, it became more serious and like any top junior I had a few options but for me, for starters, they’ve had dozens of riders go through and become WorldTour pros. Axel has proven that it’s the best development team in my eyes, and for me, my main reason for going is because of Axel’s background. With the dad he had growing up, he knew the pressures. He’s been through it all and probably to a bigger degree with his dad being the greatest cyclist of all time in Eddy Merckx, and I couldn’t think of anyone better to guide me through the pressures that will come with the name. The good and bad.

It was a bonus because of all the great staff they have around and I think it’s the perfect environment for me to develop. Obviously, the goal is to get to the WorldTour, and I don’t think there’s anywhere better for me to do that. Also, if you go to a team like Jumbo, FDJ or any of the WorldTour development teams it’s not a knock on them, because they’re all amazing, but at this point in my career I didn’t want to get tied down to living anywhere, with Axeon it’s super flexible, and it’s just the perfect place for me.

GCN: I don’t want to be one of the countless journalists who bombard you with questions about the family name but you did mention the fact that Axel has that parallel upbringing to you. I’d really like to know what your process is when it comes to dealing with the pros and cons of that, coupled with your own desires as a rider and the expectations around you.

Wiggins: To be honest there’s no process to it. No one can prepare you for the pressure and the noise that comes with it. You deal with it on the fly and it’s not a set process. It’s only difficult to deal with when it’s not going well. Obviously this season it’s gone well most of the time so it’s not really been an issue but next year we go back to square one, so I’m sure there will be new challenges that come with it. I’d like to think that I’ve dealt with it well enough as a junior.

GCN: It very much sounds like you can stand on your own two feet and take on that responsibility. Do you just roll with it?

Wiggins: I think so and I think that’s down to my dad as well. He’s very vocal about staying out of it and people ask me what advice he gives me and honestly, it’s very little unless I ask him a question. I know how I work and there’s only so much he can tell me but it’s more about having his presence rather than the advice. I owe a lot to him because of how he’s been with me. I feel that a lot of ex-pros can be quite pushy and they want it just as bad as they wanted it but whatever I do, I know that my dad is proud of me.

GCN: I get the sense from you that you don’t shy away from the pressure. You seem to embrace the name and it feels like you’re ingrained and at ease with who you are.

Wiggins: I try my best. There’s no point thinking ‘why me, why have I got all this pressure?’ There’s no point in that. It took me some time to learn that, and I think that’s a credit to my dad and those around me. I want to make my own name for myself and in order to do that you’ve just got to get on with it. Being around the sport my whole life, I know how to carry myself.

GCN: And do you know what your aspirations are for next season when you join Axeon? I know it’s only August but in your mind do you have targets that you want to strive towards?

Wiggins: Like most athletes, I’m thinking ahead, so for me that means developing as much as I can, and I’d love it if a WorldTour contract comes at the end of next year. For me, I just want to develop and then ride the Baby Giro and Tour of Britain. That would be a good set of goals to have. I’ll see what comes from that because I don’t want to say I’m targeting this many wins or anything like that because that just creates more pressure.

GCN: So with WorldTour contracts is that something you’re looking at signing after one year or Axeon, or again are you keen to develop at the right pace?

Wiggins: Well I don’t want to hang around but I think it comes down to how I’m feeling in myself, how the people around me think, and if the offer is there then I can’t see myself turning it down. We’ll see what comes and if I get that offer next year great, but if I have to wait another year then so be it. Long-term is what matters, so I won’t rush.

GCN: And I guess there will be those inevitable links with Ineos/Sky, although it’s a very different team to the one your dad raced at.

Wiggins: Ineos, for any British rider, and perhaps more so for me having grown up around the team, and being on the bus as a young kid, that would obviously be the long-term dream but I think I’d just like to go to a team that’s best for me and where I can make a name for myself. At Ineos, you need to be able to win and I’d like to go to that team as a winner one day. If that’s the best team for me then I’d love to go there but there’s 18 WorldTour teams and there could be options but the dream one day is to ride for Ineos.

We’ll see what comes because Axeon also has a link with Jayco now and I’ve always admired them. Matt White is a DS there, and he was my dad’s DS when he broke through at Garmin, so I’ve known Matt a long time. Those teams would be nice. I’ll just have to see how I develop.

Related Content

Link to News Round-up: Medals in time trials and mountain biking as super Worlds continue
Remco Evenepoel took the rainbow jersey once again after winning the men's time trial World Championships

News Round-up: Medals in time trials and mountain biking as super Worlds continue

Evenepoel back in rainbows, Gaze and Ferrand-Prévot defend short-track MTB titles, and latest transfer news

Link to Team Jayco AlUla and Hagens Berman Axeon likely to partner in 2024
A Jayco AlUla and Hagens Berman Axeon partnership would see Jayco become the latest WorldTour team to have a development squad

Team Jayco AlUla and Hagens Berman Axeon likely to partner in 2024

Top development team could join forces with Australian WorldTour squad

Link to Roger Hammond emerges for potential role at Israel-Premier Tech following Ineos departure
Roger Hammond has worked as a DS for Dimension Data and Ineos Grenadiers in recent seasons

Roger Hammond emerges for potential role at Israel-Premier Tech following Ineos departure

'We’re in the final stages, we’ve not made a decision yet but we’ll take on one more DS' says Carlström

Link to 'Everyone thinks I'm mad' – Laura Kenny targeting Paris 2024 Olympics return
Laura Kenny, then Trott, took two gold medals at the Rio Olympics in 2016

'Everyone thinks I'm mad' – Laura Kenny targeting Paris 2024 Olympics return

Decorated British track cyclist hoping to compete again after birth of second child

Subscribe to the GCN Newsletter

Get the latest, most entertaining and best informed news, reviews, challenges, insights, analysis, competitions and offers - straight to your inbox