A documentary by Sky about Bradley Wiggins immediately suggests a mere publicity piece, something extracted by Sky in return for its sponsorship. Nothing could be further from the truth. The film is an honest and moving portrayal of a great cyclist.
There are many interesting cycling documentaries. But Bradley Wiggins - A Year in Yellow is an outstanding example of the genre. If you only ever watch one cycling documentary, this is probably the one to choose.
The focus of the film is, as the title indicates, Wiggins' winning of the Tour de France. However, the documentary is far wider in scope. We learn about Wiggins the person, about his childhood, about his family and, of course, the obsessive determination that makes him one of cycling's greats.
Yet this is no exercise in mythologising. The documentary makes no attempt to portray Wiggins as some flawless legend. Instead, the viewer is shown a man who is complex, capable of both positive and negative behaviours, just like all of us. At one point in the film, when Cath, Wiggins' wife, is asked to describe him, she asks, "Which one?" For there is Wiggins the wonderful husband and father, and there is Wiggins the selfish ("Am I allowed to swear?") cyclist, who can only see cycling.
We see these different facets of Wiggins directly. When he talks about the father he barely knew, he matter of factly states that he does not regret not attending his father's funeral. Yet, we see a very easily moved Wiggins when he visits a local primary school and the children present him with a card and sing to him or when he contemplates a "gold medal" made for him by one of his own children. We see different facets of Wiggins when we listen to accounts of him from his team mates and coach and other members of the team.
One area of difficulty for any documentary about professional cycling is how cycling itself is handled. Professional cycling is to most people a closed book. How can a documentary aimed at the general public convey the complexities, the paradoxes, the sheer suffering involved this arcane sport without stooping to talk down to its audience? Director John Dower's film manages the dilemma brilliantly. When Wiggins is invited to talk about the romance and history of the Tour, he merely laconically asserts: "Yeah, it's bloody hard". When he tries to describe climbing in the mountains, he can only compare it to someone holding his head under water: "until you can't take anymore".
The paradox that professional cycling is a team sport, played by people who are not team players is conveyed with an economy and brevity that is a testament to the craft of the film-maker. The point is graphically illustrated with footage from the Tour, showing Froome attacking Wiggins in the mountains, which is beautifully under-scored by Sean Kelly shouting over the radio: "Bradley's hurting!"
By the end of the documentary, one is left with an image of Bradley Wiggins the man: complex, moody, a loving husband and father, a difficult team mate, and an outstanding cyclist, who won the Tour de France and became Olympic champion all in a matter of days.