Magical memories of 2012 - Cycling: 'Bradley Wiggins' achievement was greatest we have ever seen from a Briton'

22 July: Bradley Wiggins wins the Tour de France

When someone like Sir Chris Hoy – himself a top candidate for providing British cycling's highpoint of 2012 – describes Bradley Wiggins' Tour de France win "as a one-off sporting achievement, the greatest thing we have ever seen from a British competitor" the implications of what Wiggins did this summer become clear.

Prior to Wiggins pulling on the Tour's final yellow jersey in Paris – and Chris Froome finishing an almost equally remarkable second – no Briton had ever finished in the race's top three, let alone won it. True, we had had more than two weeks of Wiggins wearing yellow as Tour leader to begin to get used to that possibility, and Wiggins had started the race – after an outstanding run of earlier success in the season – as favourite. But the scale of his breakthrough following more than a century where fourth had been Britain's best overall result was far bigger than anticipated.

There was not just Wiggins in yellow and Froome celebrating by his side in Paris. Britain's seven Tour stage wins was a record for the country and Mark Cavendish – whose last-ditch charge to victory in Brive-La-Gaillarde 48 hours before Paris, aided greatly by Wiggins in the final kilometre, produced one of the most stunning wins of his career – now has 23 Tour stage wins, making him the race's greatest ever sprinter. All this from Cavendish, lest we forget, whilst clad in the world champion's rainbow jersey (supposedly a curse on the rider who wears it, but not in Cav's case) and in a team which was focused almost exclusively on winning the yellow jersey for Wiggins.

For Wiggins, morphing physically from gold medallist track star in Beijing and Athens to dominating road cycling's most arduous event is an equally remarkable achievement. So too, is his bouncing back from a broken collarbone in the 2011 Tour de France and a dismal ride in 2010. Personally then, for Wiggins, Britain's first Tour de France victory represents both a huge comeback and a change of career path that can also act as inspiration for other racers – particularly given Wiggins' radical anti-doping stance.

Inside Britain, the impact on cycling of the country's first Tour win will last for years, if not decades. Given British Cycling membership has trebled since 2000 to over 60,000, it's clear cycling was already on the up before July. But this year its popularity has surged to unprecedented heights: more than 200,000 people have started riding a bike at least once a week in 2012. And there are countless anecdotes about youngsters joining cycling clubs for the first time – and doing so sporting Wiggins mutton chops, making it fairly clear who had inspired them.

Surging media interest shows cycling is no longer a minority sport – that a certain red-top newspaper made Wiggins' crash in training this autumn one its front page stories felt, oddly enough, that another big corner had been turned for cycling's profile.

And if London's Tour start in 2007 and Cavendish's success from 2008 onwards blazed the trail in terms of increasing recent British interest in the sport's blue-riband event, Wiggins' Tour win has broadened cycling's appeal to totally unprecedented levels.

And now the 2014 Tour will start in Yorkshire. Whatever next?

Further reading:

Olympics: ‘Mo, Jess and Greg gave us a night no one could forget’ 4 August: That night in the Olympic Stadium - James Lawton

Football: ‘When Chelsea saw off Barcelona, the joy was in watching the spoilers have their day’ 24 April: Barcelona 2-2 Chelsea (agg 2-3); Champions League semi-final second leg - Sam Wallace

Athletics: ‘The roar for Ennis made the hair stand up on the back of my neck’ 3 August: Opening day of track and field at the Olympics - Simon Turnbull

Rugby Union: ‘It was eerie seeing England sticking it to the silver fern’ 1 December: Manu Tuilagi waltzes to the try line as England smash New Zealand- Chris Hewett

Football: ‘We’ll never encounter anything quite like it again’ 13 May: Manchester City win the title in thrilling style - Ian Herbert

Football: ‘After losing the title in the cruellest way, Ferguson stood firm’ 13 May: United are denied the title in heart-breaking style Martin Hardy

Olympics: ‘Nobody personified it more than Hoy, the ultimate sportsman’ 27 July: Hoy leads out Team GB at the Games opening ceremony - Robin Scott-Elliot

Football: ‘An hour later Theo Walcott was a hero – given a standing ovation’ 26 February: Theo Walcott turns the jeers to cheers to steer Arsenal to derby victory - Glenn Moore

Golf: ‘This was it. The moment that would decide the Ryder Cup. A 10-footer for glory ... Get in!’ 30 September: Europe claim Ryder Cup in thrilling fashion - Kevin Garside

Boxing: ‘The fight was terrific from the first bell. It had urgency, nastiness' 14 July: David Haye v Dereck “Del Boy” Chisora - Steve Bunce

Tennis: ‘After Murray won he staggered in a daze, then held his head in his hands’ 11 September: Andy Murray ends Britain’s wait for a major - Paul Newman

Football: ‘That night Spain played thrilling, bold, beautiful football’  1 July: Beautiful Spain smash Italy in the Euro 2012 final - Jack Pitt-Brooke

Formula One: ‘Kimi’s Lotus win was F1’s most romantic result’  4 November: Kimi Raikkonen zooms to victory in Abu Dhabi - David Tremayne

Racing: ‘Frankel enlarged life’s comfort zone for us all’ 22 August: Juddmonte International Stakes; Frankel finally goes the full distance - Chris McGrath

Cricket: ‘A sweep for three and Cook had broken a 73-year-old landmark’  6 December: Alastair Cook breaks England century record - Stephen Brenkley

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