Tour de France: Bradley Wiggins' pedal power wins over the French
John Lichfield on the Champs-Élysées watches the British cyclist complete a famous victory
Not since Winston Churchill in 1944 has an Englishman received such a triumphant welcome on the Champs-Élysées.
With British fans waving Union Flags and chanting "Allez Wiggo" like a football crowd, Bradley Wiggins entered sporting history yesterday by becoming the first Briton to win the Tour de France.
His Sky teammate Mark Cavendish – helped by Wiggins until the final yards – won the final stage for a record fourth time in succession. Another Briton and Sky team member, Christopher Froome, came second after three weeks and 3,500 kilometres of cycling to give Britain an unprecedented triple crown in the most gruelling sporting event on earth.
However, it seems that Britain and France can rarely agree on anything. The British excitement has been matched by French "ennui".
By common consent of the French commentators and fans, this has been one of the dullest Tours in history. Is this because France is miffed that the British should have the cheek to win "their" race?
Raphaël Delory, 23, part of the huge crowd which lined both sides of the Champs-Élysées for the final stage, said: "It is not that. We love Bradley Wiggins as much as you do but the tactics of the Sky team made it a very dull race. There were no attacks or breakaways in the mountain stage. No excitement. No emotion."
French cycling fans have grown used to cheering foreign winners – Americans, Italians, Spaniards, Germans, Luxembourgers, an Irishman and now a Briton. No Frenchman has managed to win the Tour since 1985.
Wiggins rode for several years for French teams; he speaks French; he has the quirky sense of humour which the French think goes well with bowler hats, fish and chips and mint sauce. He is a popular rider in France.
The French doubts about his victory are based on the domination of the race by the computer-aided tactics of the Sky team – and a belief that Wiggins was not truly the best rider. The widespread French view is that Froome should have won the Tour because he was manifestly the best hill-climber.
The Tour is traditionally won in the near-vertical climbs in the Alps and Pyrenees.
Froome was bound by team discipline, and his contract, to hold back in the mountain stages to help his team leader, Wiggins, to win.
British fans who gathered on the Champs-Élysées in their hundreds had little time for such technicalities.
James Froggatt, 47, a tax accountant from Hemel Hempstead, said: "It's exciting not just because it's a British victory. The Wiggomania in Britain is also a tribute to him – an extraordinary man who has overcome adversity and knows how to win."
A group of friends from the Midlands had all grown long sideburns "in homage to the Wiggo look".
One of them, Jamie Mason, 32, was wearing not a yellow jersey, like the Tour leader, but a yellow dress.
"He's getting married next month," said his friend Matt Voss, 33. "This is his stag party."
After receiving the trophy, Wiggins said: "It's been a magical couple of weeks for the team and for British cycling. Some dreams can come true, and now my old mother over there… her son's won the Tour de France."
In interviews after crushing the opposition in the final time trial on Saturday, Wiggins replied to the French complaints about the dullness of this year's race. The protesters are the "same people who insist that we are all doped", he said.
They can't have it both ways; road-race cycling has changed, he said. The old days of phenomenal individual feats in the mountains are over. In other words, team discipline and computer-analysed performance levels are the new drugs.
Wiggins has a point. There has been an institutionalised hypocrisy surrounding the Tour de France for years. Everyone spoke of the need to drive dope and artificially inflated blood-oxygen levels out of cycling. No one wanted the riders' performances to dip. No one wanted to lose the exciting mountain breakaways by superhuman riders who, in many cases, turned out to be superhuman for artificial reasons.
The fact that such exploits were missing this year is perhaps the clearest sign that cycling is cleaning up its act.
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