Kevin Garside: Oh, Wiggo, say it ain't so. Sir Bradley will just never do
Now what? Ascot’s royal enclosure? You can’t park your bike there, son
As a youngster who shared in the conceptual revolution alongside Woolfie and Tooting's Popular Front, there is, in a corner of my little red heart, a touch of disappointment at the loss of Wiggo from the barricades. It is right that the nation salutes its heroes, but the co-option of Sir Bradley by the Establishment is a real tug on the communal whiskers.
To claim 30 per cent of the vote in the BBC beauty contest at the close of a year as full of goodies as 2012 demonstrates the hold Wiggins has on British hearts and minds. He is the cycling everyman who encourages the masses to believe that each of us has a talent as deep as his, if only we found the right buttons to press.
Wiggins' career reached a formidable peak in the Tour de France in July, the first Briton to cross the finish line in Paris wearing the maillot jeune. On a sunny day at Hampton Court just three weeks later Wiggins learnt how much that historic achievement meant to the people of Britain when they turned up in their thousands along the banks of the Thames to pay tribute.
It was the occasion of the Olympic time trial, a day that would end with Wiggins perched on a faux throne in the grounds of Hampton Court Palace, shirt unzipped to the waist, fingers raised in a victory salute as he awaited the medal ceremony. This impromptu coronation takes its place in the montage of golden memories of London 2012. The formal presentation in the courtyard of Henry VIII's country seat was a treat, too, but in its regulated format could never project the essence of 2012's signature sporting figure. Bradley Wiggins ascended the podium, but it was Wiggo on that throne in all his magnificent irreverence.
The day before the Olympic pageant began Wiggo held court at the training base used by the road cycling team in leafy Surrey. He seemed at odds with the bucolic splendour of the Foxhills setting, which in texture and tone could not be further removed from the Lancashire hinterland that is home. He spoke of his pride at winning the Tour de France and how texts from Johnny Marr, guitarist with The Smiths and fellow Mod, meant more to him than the letter of congratulation he received from the Queen.
"It's all very strange. Those sorts of things don' happen to guys like me. My wife kept going on, ecstatic that Queen had sent us a letter. I kept saying, 'F*** the Queen, Johnny Marr has sent me a text on Twitter.' But she said, 'It's the Queen.' I said , 'And this is Johnny Marr, Cath, come on.' I had a message from 'God', too, Robbie Fowler."
We swooned, or at least those of us with a crumpled copy of The Communist Manifesto in our bags did. I confess that the passing years have taken the edge off my socialist pretensions. The Marxists texts still adorn the bookshelves but the need for comfort has allowed a degree of indulgence to creep in. But a knighthood, a knighthood. Oh Wiggo, say it ain't so. Sir Bradley will just never do.
On that August day when you were still one of us the streets around East Molesey rejoiced in your presence. From first light the bijou bars and cafes along Bridge Road opposite the station were festooned with hirsute Wiggo worshippers sporting false burns. No rider has ever bolted down a ramp with such a following wind as this. With the breath of the great British public at his back Wiggo flew along the Surrey roads at a divine pace none could match.
His race to the line was a cacophony of bells and whistles. At first he wasn't sure he had beaten the clock and pressed an aide anxiously for confirmation. As if. At the sign of the raised thumb Wiggins rode back through the Palace gates to commune with his people in a mini lap of honour along the river. On his return he skipped off the bike and casually took a seat on the throne. The pose was a gift for photographers and its entirely unscripted nature revealed something of the essential Wiggo rarely glimpsed in the overly scrutinised, highly pressured environs of the tour.
This was Wiggins unplugged. The last push of summer was done. Next stop was the Velodrome in the Olympic Village to watch the track team spin yet more gold on the boards. He could not have been happier, sat among the crowd with a beer in his hand, man of the people, raising a toast to the great British triumph that was the Olympic Games. "Wiggo, Wiggo, Wiggo," they screamed. Now what? Tea with the Queen on the Buckingham Palace lawn, a seat in the royal box at Wimbledon, the royal enclosure at Ascot? You can't park your bike there, son. The skilful PR alignment of Her Majesty with the common folk is one of the great illusions of the age. No matter how many hours she logs watching EastEnders, the butler will always serve her tea. That could be you, one day, Wiggo.
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