Bradley Wiggins’ ex-wife tells of her battle to help him

When it comes to the big celebrations, many divorced couples are happy to put their differences aside for the children and last weekend was no different for the Wiggins family.

Cath Wiggins hosted her ex-husband Bradley for Father’s Day, so that he could spend time with their two children, Ben, 19, and 17-year-old Isabella.

On a personal level it was a special day, but it also came at a particularly challenging period in their father’s life — just 48 hours earlier, cycling legend Sir Bradley had been made bankrupt.

Bradley and Cath Wiggins in Beijing for the Olympic Games in 2008, where he won a gold medal

Bradley and Cath Wiggins in Beijing for the Olympic Games in 2008, where he won a gold medal

‘He was at his limit, I guess,’ says Cath quietly when I ask how he was. ‘He’d not long since received the news, and while I don’t want to invade his privacy I can say it was hard to see him ­confronting the reality of it.’

Much has been written about the difficulties Bradley, one of the country’s finest-ever athletes, has experienced in recent years.

There was the breakdown of his seemingly solid marriage to Cath, a child with a new partner from whom he has since separated, and the stain of a drug scandal from which, despite his vehement denial, the 44-year-old sporting icon never quite recovered.

Perhaps most devastating of all, as the Mail reported last week, the fortunes of ‘Sir Wiggo’ as he was dubbed following his 2013 knighthood, have been so utterly transformed that the man who was once worth £13 million is currently sofa-surfing and, it is rumoured, may be forced to sell his trophies and ­medals to pay his debts.

Cath admits to me that even she ‘doesn’t always know where he is sleeping’. Bluntly, as his lawyer Alan Sellers put it to the Mail last weekend, he has ‘lost ­absolutely everything’.

So where did it all go wrong?

Cath must surely be best placed to answer that question as she was the woman by Bradley’s side — or perhaps more accurately supporting him in the background — for 18 years until the couple’s separation in May 2020.

She has good reason to be furious with him, not least because she was effectively dumped on social media after Bradley announced their split on Twitter without consulting her.

Four years on, his financial woes mean that the family home in Lancashire in which she still lives with Ben and Isabella, known as Bella, must now be sold in order to help pay his debts, as it is still jointly owned.

Earlier this week he was accused of having smashed up a camper van he’d been loaned by a friend, leaving it in a terrible state.

‘It’s tragic, horrible, but some insight into what he’s going through,’ says Cath, who is speaking publicly for the first time. ‘I just hope that instead of judgment people can show compassion.’

It’s astonishing — and deeply moving — to discover that Cath, 43, remains one of Bradley’s strongest supporters.

‘Once the pain’s passed . . .’ she pauses. ‘You loved that person once; it doesn’t just vanish in a puff of smoke.

‘My primary concern was, and is always, if he’s going to be all right, and that’s not weird or difficult from my perspective. Whatever has happened he’s the father of my children. He’s also had a hell of a lot to have to come to terms with and it’s a shame he’s not had the chance to do that in peace.

‘He’s had to live such a lot of his life under intense public scrutiny and that takes its toll.’

Few could argue with the latter. Undoubtedly the greatest cyclist of his generation, the eight-time Olympic medal winner (five of them gold) is both the only rider ever to have won World and Olympic medals on both track and road and the first Brit to win the ­coveted Tour de France title.

With his sideburns, tattoos and rock ‘n’ roll swagger, Bradley inspired a new generation of cyclists and even jammed on stage with Paul Weller, on whom he modelled his look.

There, throughout it all, was Cath, the woman who, as Bradley put it in his 2012 autobiography, My Time, was the ‘constant one’. ‘She’s seen me through the good times, the bad times, the ups, the downs, the great times,’ he wrote. ‘Since we got together, we have been a team.’

That much is evident today: while the couple’s divorce finally came through in January, Cath is still doing what she can for her ex.

Bradley Wiggins cycles past the Arc de Triomphe in Paris during the final stage of the 2012 Tour de France

Bradley Wiggins cycles past the Arc de Triomphe in Paris during the final stage of the 2012 Tour de France

She’s taken him in several times in recent months, allowing him to stay when he had nowhere else to go. ‘It’s a desperate situation he’s in, tragic really, that’s why I’ve put him up for a bit,’ she says.

‘We’re lucky with the home we have that he can have one end and I have another.’

She’s remarkably accepting of the fact she will have to downsize when their beautiful farm is sold.

Still, it’s undoubtedly a difficult time for Cath, too: more than once she has to stop to gulp back tears.

Nonetheless, she’s determined to speak out, asking for compassion for a man she believes should still command our respect. ‘He was an incredible, dedicated athlete — and he is still.’

For all her fragility — she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder

in 2015 — Wigan-born Cath is no-one’s fool. A straight ‘A’ student, she studied therapeutic radiography at Liverpool University, and worked in a Manchester hospital. In different circumstances, she might have had a flourishing career, but then, in 2002, she got together with Bradley.

The two had been friendly since they were 15, courtesy of a shared love of cycling, but when they ‘bumped into each other’ at Manchester’s 2002 Commonwealth Games — Bradley already a medal veteran, having secured a bronze at the 2000 Sydney Olympics — romance blossomed.

They married in 2004 and Ben was born the next year, followed two years later by Isabella.

By then Bradley had won his first gold medal at the 2004 Athens Olympics in the individual pursuit. Sponsorship deals started to roll in, he was away a lot, and Cath made the difficult decision to stop work.

‘It wasn’t me saying, ‘Lovely, I’m not working any more’, it was a case of he was away a lot, and my children needed someone constant,’ she says.

She points out this is the reality for most partners of elite athletes, while their other halves pursue sporting glory. Yet when Bradley was home he was an ‘absolutely brilliant dad’. ‘He was full of fun, always playing games; absolutely fantastic,’ she says.

What we know now, of course, is that he was already battling demons. In a shocking interview two years ago, Bradley revealed that in 2003 he had been forced to confront the sexual abuse he’d endured from his coach when he was just 13.

The former couple are photographed at Buckingham Palace with their two children, Isabella and Ben, after the cycling legend was awarded a knighthood by the Queen in 2013

The former couple are photographed at Buckingham Palace with their two children, Isabella and Ben, after the cycling legend was awarded a knighthood by the Queen in 2013

His mother Linda had given him a letter she’d received from the cycling governing body investigating a complaint from the parent of another boy. She asked if anything similar happened to him but ­Bradley denied it, fearing he would not be believed.

It was a long time before he felt able to confide in Cath. ‘We’d only been together about six months,’ she said. ‘I knew that letter had deeply troubled him. Like many victims of trauma, it took years for him to talk to me about it.’

Understandably, she is reluctant to go into detail, pointing out that it is her ex-husband’s story, but admits it was an ordeal for both of them. ‘It was incredibly hard,’ she says quietly. ‘I mean, how do you deal with that? How does he deal with that? He has said himself that he was distracting himself with his cycling and, looking back, I think that’s fair.

‘I also think a lot of things come bubbling back in middle-age — where he is now — so, financial state aside, let’s not forget what he’s coming to terms with.’

Cycling may have been a ‘distraction’, but Bradley’s career went from strength to strength, bringing us to that golden British Olympic summer of 2012.

Today, Cath remembers that time as a ‘whirlwind’. ‘It was ­surreal really. I felt like almost overnight I’d gone from being a normal, slightly chubby, mouthy northerner to getting driven around by the blooming Met Police,’ she says.

Cath Wiggins has admitted she does not always know where her former husband is sleeping

Cath Wiggins has admitted she does not always know where her former husband is sleeping

A ‘purple patch’ followed. The money was rolling in (Bradley was said to be earning £2-£3 million at the height of his career). As well as the Lancashire farm, Bradley also bought a property in Majorca.

Times seemed good, but what Cath didn’t know was that they were also haemorrhaging money as Bradley had been advised badly in relation to his finances.

‘I’m not going to name names,’ she says. ‘But people took advantage. And Bradley was very generous. He was never that interested in money.’

Then, in 2015, after years of ups and downs with her mental health, Cath was hospitalised for a week after having what she calls a ‘manic episode’ triggered by confronting issues from her childhood. ‘It was a very dark time,’ she says, blinking back tears. ‘It’s ­hideous — for the sufferer and for the family. Unless you’ve lived it, you don’t understand it.’

She was subsequently formally diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and given medication which slowly brought her back to normal.

In 2016, Cath was still in recovery when it emerged that Bradley was the subject of an anti-doping investigation over the contents of a Jiffy bag delivered to him in France in 2011.

He vehemently denied the ­allegations and, in November 2017, the investigation found ­insufficient evidence it contained a banned substance, but the cloud of the allegation never entirely dissipated.

Still battling her own issues, Cath says she experienced immense feelings of guilt that she was not supportive enough.

‘I’ve no doubt whatsoever in his integrity as an athlete, none whatsoever. Nor did the children. They never once doubted their dad.

‘What I struggled with was the feeling that I’d let him down. I felt he needed his wife, and I couldn’t be there for him. I blamed myself for a long, long time.’

Meanwhile, people they considered friends vanished from view. ‘We had wonderful neighbours who were fantastic, but the fair-weather friends turned like the wind, realising that perhaps they were going to miss out on their free trips to Europe,’ she says, scornfully. ‘At the time it was ­horrible, but it’s now a blessing because I’ve found out who my real friends are.’

All the while the debts were mounting up as sponsors withdrew, and legal fees started to climb as Bradley battled to clear his name. He was also faced with a tax bill running into hundreds of ­thousands of pounds. ‘I think this contributed massively to the ­situation he’s in today,’ she says.

Cath also had another manic ­episode in 2019, which again required hospitalisation. As she was recovering, Bradley’s company, Wiggins Rights Limited, went into voluntary liquidation, owing more than £300,000 to creditors.

Worse was to come: in May 2020 Bradley took to Twitter to announce the end of their marriage. By then he was spending extended periods away from the marital home, and the couple had discussed separation, but she says: ‘I absolutely was not ready to go public, and I couldn’t understand the pressing urgency of having to do so. It baffled me.’

Six months later Bradley was seen with PR executive Laura Hartshorne, whose existence Cath only learned of when a friend rang her to report that they were ­pictured together in a national newspaper. The couple now have a three-year-old daughter, Ava, but are understood to be no longer together.

‘I am not here to pitch rocks,’ Cath says. ‘I made my peace with it long ago. People don’t want to be with other people any more, fine. It’s painful, I lived through it, and it’s not painful any more.’

She will not be drawn on her feelings about Laura, or whether her children have a relationship with Ava, but will say that when their divorce was finalised there was no sense of punishment.

‘I’d like to think it was quite reasonable, because a contract works both ways — and when you take away the hearts and flowers, marriage is a contract — and I saw it as my place to try to be supportive of him in the same way he’d been supportive of me,’ she says.

Certainly, she appears to have encouraged her children to maintain good links with their father and they see him regularly. Ben has also inherited his father’s cycling prowess.

‘Ben has already had three full seasons in the sport, and he’s a junior world champion, so it’s safe to say he’s good,’ she smiles proudly. ‘Both my children are very, very determined.’

Like their father, of course.

Cath pauses again, remembering happier times. ‘Whatever happens now, let’s not let anything take away from that wonderful summer of 2012.’