AS Sir Bradley Wiggins took a break from his cycling exploits to watch Wigan Warriors at last year’s ‘Magic Weekend’ on TV, he saw Sam Tomkins celebrate his try with a link-fingered salute.
It was something the soon-to-be Olympic and Tour de France champion didn’t recognise and he wanted to know more. Much more.
Of course, the Warriors full-back was showing his support for Joining Jack, the charity set up by ex-Wigan star Andy Johnson to raise money and awareness for Duchenne muscular dystrophy.
Andy’s five-year-old son Jack was diagnosed with the condition in 2011 and the link-fingered salute was devised to help promote the charity.
In this case in particular, it did just that.
As Wiggins heard more about Jack and his condition, the father-of-two immediately asked “What can I do?” Despite enjoying the best – and perhaps busiest – moments of his career, he took time to tweet a picture of himself performing the salute.
This went to out hundreds of thousands of people. He wasn’t done yet though and after riding to victory in the penultimate stage of last year’s Tour de France, he linked his fingers while stood on the podium.
It was an image that went out to millions and one which the national – and international media – picked up on. Joining Jack had just gone global.
Since then, his support for the charity has grown. He met Andy, wife Alex, Jack and his little brother James to see what he could do.
After supporting Joining Jack at a number of events, he also flew out to Dubai where a team of rugby legends were taking part in a tournament for the charity and “Wiggo” became perhaps the most famous waterboy the world of sport has ever seen.
This week, he has thrown his backing behind another exploit, as a number of former rugby stars – including Andy – take on “L’Etape du Tour”, one stage of the Tour de France, just days before the professionals.
In an exclusive interview, Wiggins has opened his heart to Observer readers, explaining why he joined Jack and why he’ll continue to do so.
“When I actually met Andy, I met Jack as well. Once you start to meet the root of it, you just want to do anything you can to help out.
“There are quite a lot of charities you get asked to be involved in but you never really see where it’s going and the heart of the problem.
“On the occasions I’ve met Andy, Jack’s been there and once you see it like that, its just means so much more.
“My kids were playing with Jack a month or two ago when we were trying to organise this thing (L’Etape du Tour) and you just want to do anything you can really.
“That’s the hardest thing, too, to see Jack in the flesh and know about this terrible disease, hopefully one day we can raise enough money and find a cure.”
The cycling superstar also praised the rugby league community and the people of Wigan, for the way they have got behind Joining Jack, adding: “The way everyone has pitched in has been incredible really.
“The charity isn’t even a year old and to think how much it’s grown is quite incredible really and to think what it could be this time next year is mind-blowing.”
Wiggins’ support for the Joining Jack team’s assault on L’Etape du Tour has also given it even bigger exposure.
A total of seven legends from the world of rugby will take on the challenge on July 7 this year, just days before the professionals take to the same leg.
The team, captained by Andy, also includes ambassador Kris Radlinski, Steve Hampson, Paul Sculthorpe, Denis Betts, Andy Coley and rugby union star Charlie Hodgson.
Along the route, they will be supported by Bradley’s wife, Lady Cath Wiggins, and cycling legend Sir Chris Hoy as well as a number of other experienced cyclists.
The team, who will all wear jerseys similar to those which were worn by the JJ Dubai rugby Sevens side, will ride 130km through the French alps.
It’ll be a tough ask but they will have training advice from Olympic champion Wiggins in the run up to the ride.
“A few of the lads are into cycling,” Wiggins added. “Andy’s never ridden a bike though so I thought it was a challenge to put them out of their comfort zone.
“It’s the centenary of the Tour de France, so it just seemed like quite a big challenge to take on and if we can get Andy round it would certainly raise quite a bit of awareness.
“It will probably take anything between six and 12 hours depending on how fit you are. It’s going to be hot, certainly you’ve got to be able to ride a bike, it’s not going to be easy.
“I’ll be advising the guys what to do in the run up to it and the type of training sessions they can be doing.”
The JJ team are all up for the challenge though and Andy hopes that the ride will help raise the profile of the charity further.
He has always said there are no limits as to how big Joining Jack can be, nor the amount of money needed to fund research into Duchenne muscular dystrophy.
“It’s going to be extremely difficult but we’ve got to go out and put the training in now,” said the former Warriors star.
“This, with Bradley involved, will raise the profile of the charity. We’ve a lot of work to do, there are a lot more events that are coming up.”