Riding that last 10km was very emotional. I realise what I have accomplished
Bradley Wiggins will make history today when he becomes the first British rider to win the Tour de France after a stunning victory in yesterday’s time trial.
In a performance that proved his superiority over his rivals, Wiggins beat fellow Briton and Team Sky colleague Chris Froome by 1min 16 sec.
Today’s final stage serves as a coronation for the Tour winner and barring an improbable accident, Wiggins will complete one of the greatest achievements by any British sportsman.
An emotional Wiggins said: “In the final 10km today I thought about my childhood, about my father leaving us when I was a kid, my mum bringing me up and my grandfather dying two years ago.
“I could never have imagined that a kid from London could win the Tour de France. All my mates were into football and had posters of Gary Lineker on their walls. I was mad about cycling and had Miguel Indurain on my wall.”
Of his dominant ride yesterday, Wiggins added: “I wanted to go out and finish with a bang. Only one more day to go, and I’ve won the yellow jersey. I’ve a lot of emotions and a lot of relief it’s finished.”
Froome will finish second overall, 3 min 21sec behind his team-mate, and the two men paid handsome tribute to each other despite hints of friction in the camp earlier in the Tour.
“The reasons we have been good this year is that we are a team. Next year it could be him winning the Tour de France,” Wiggins said, opening up the possibility that despite being defending champion he could act as a helper for his team-mate.
Froome, who occasionally looked stronger in the mountains than Wiggins, said: “As we saw today Bradley was stronger than me. I’m very happy. The Team Sky goal this year was to win the Tour with Bradley. To be second is an added plus for me.” He’s only gone and done it. For more than a century British riders have been largely bit players in the sporting world’s great endurance event but that all changed yesterday when Bradley Wiggins, stylish and composed until the actual moment of deliverance when he roared and punched the air with joy like a 12 year-old, won the Tour de France.
The official anointment comes this afternoon the moment Wiggins, in the yellow jersey, leads Team Sky on to the ChampsÉlysées, but the 2012 Tour de France is done and dusted and a new chapter written. Wiggins is not only the first Briton to win, he is also the first Olympic gold medallist from the track to win the Tour de France, a slice of history that highlights his extraordinary all-round talent which a wider audience is beginning to appreciate.
Yesterday, as he negotiated the 53.5km from Bonneval to the cathedral city of Chartres, he was blissfully in his comfort zone pedalling away in that wonderfully fluid style of his that the rest of the cycling world envies but secretly admires as well. With a lead of just over two minutes from Sky colleague Chris Froome, he could have played safe but Wiggins went out hard and gained well over a minute on Froome before easing back just a tad in the final third to avoid any needless calamity.
Wiggins eventually finished 1min 16sec ahead of Froome to claim his second stage win of the Tour but, much more importantly, to lead the general classification competition by 3min 21sec, a lead which will not change on the Champs-Élysées this afternoon. Team Sky principal Dave Brailsford promised a British Tour de France winner in five years when he launched the team in January 2010, but instead it is a British one-two in three years.
Somebody is due a very handsome bonus and knighthoods undoubtedly beckon before the year is out.
“It was a beautiful course and beautiful way to finish the tour with the course lined with cheering fans, many of them waving union jacks,” said an emotional Wiggins after fighting back the tears on the winners podium. “Time-trialing is what us British do best and it was nice to finish the tour with a bang. Riding that last 10km was very emotional. I realise what I have accomplished but it doesn’t make it any easier to sink in.”
Before yesterday’s time-trial started Wiggins and Froome shared a friendly lunch and Wiggins insisted last night there was never a problem between the two riders as some commentators have suggested: “A lot of people would like there to be a story because perhaps there hasn’t been much to write about but there is no issue, no problem. The reasons we have been good this year is that we are a team. Next year it could be him winning the Tour de France.”
Prior to this year, the best British performance at the Tour had been a fourth place by Robert Millar in 1984 and another fourth place by Wiggins three years ago when he made his first breakthrough as a general classification rider. The following year, however, resulted in a disappointing 23rd on his Team Sky Tour debut, a result he considered humiliating but a “hurt” that spurred him on.
Wiggins changed his lifestyle, lost more weight, trained more scientifically and started entering races to win rather than just compete. This year, before he even reached the Tour start line in Liege last month, he had claimed a unique treble of big race victories at Paris-Nice, the Tour of Romandie and the Critérium du Dauphiné and climbed more than 100,000 metres during races and training. This had to be his year. If not now, when?
Meanwhile, the 2012 Tour de France has morphed into a uniquely British tour with first and second in GC and six stage wins from four riders with power before this afternoon’s final stage in Paris, where Mark Cavendish is unbeaten. The sight of the Champs-Élysées awash with Union Flags this afternoon and “Allez Wiggo” stickers will only underline that.
So hail Brad Wiggins. For three stressful weeks he has led Sky by example, twice leading out his sprinters out in the final week, which is unheard of from the race leader, while he ordered the peloton to behave when young turks wanted to attack after reigning champion Cadel Evans became a victim of sabotage. Two days earlier he had diplomatically made a joke of a serious incident when his arm was burnt by a fan running alongside the maillot jeune with a flaming torch. He has beguiled the locals with his “pub French” and given the most honest answers to drug questions we have heard in years.