Tour de France: Invasion of les rosbifs!
Britons rush to conquer France with Wiggins favourite for the Tour
They are travelling by train and plane and ferry. One diehard fan has chartered a helicopter. But they're thinking only of bicycles, and one man who they hope can pedal into the history books to become the first Briton to conquer the Tour de France.
The prospect of Bradley Wiggins winning the gruelling 3,500km race has created an invasion of "les rosbifs", with thousands of supporters crossing the Channel to join the 12 million expected to line the route around France before reaching the Champs-Elysées on 22 July.
The 32-year-old multiple Olympic gold medal winner started in Liège, Belgium, yesterday, as the bookies' favourite to take on defending champion Cadel Evans from Australia.
Wiggins has already won the Paris-Nice, Tour de Romandie and Critérium du Dauphiné races this year, setting the scene for another chapter in this summer of heightened British sporting hopes. There is talk of him pulling off the biggest British cycling win for two decades. In last year's Tour de France, British sprinter Mark Cavendish won the Green Jersey, for high stage finishes, but no Briton has won the race outright.
At the beginning of last month, Wiggins was doing his best to manage expectations. He said: "If I put my full energy into it and as much commitment as I did on the track in the Olympics, there's no reason why we couldn't get better than fourth and maybe win."
But for his growing army of fans, there is no maybe about it. Michael Farrant, 25, a sports photographer from Essex, is watching the race to celebrate his brother's 30th birthday. He said: "It's quite something; Britain has never won the Tour before and we'll be right behind him."
David Dunphy, 28, a finance assistant at British Cycling, who left for Liège on Friday, said thousands of British fans were travelling over for the start this weekend. Others will be at the Champs-Elysées on 22 July, hoping to see Wiggins crowned the winner. Preparing to set up "fan zones" for keen Brits on the side of the road as the race went by, Mr Dunphy said: "If Bradley won, it would be the biggest thing in cycling in Britain since Chris Boardman won the Olympic gold medal in 1992."
Sports Tours International, one of the largest Tour de France trip organisers, has had a dramatic 20 per cent increase in demand.
Cycling enthusiast John Forbes, 47, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers from the Wirral, is so excited at the prospect of this year's Tour de France that he is treating his wife, Helen, and their two children to a helicopter ride, looking down on the race as it snakes through the French mountains. He said: "Wiggins has ridden fantastically this year and the fact he is going into this as favourite is really outstanding."
The US Anti-Doping Agency has recommended filing formal doping charges against Lance Armstrong, the American cyclist who won seven Tour de France titles. The agency said that it has Armstrong's blood samples from 2009 and 2010 that are "fully consistent" with doping. It also has at least 10 former team-mates and colleagues of Armstrong who will testify that he used performance-enhancing drugs during races from 1999 to 2005.
Armstrong says he is innocent and will challenge the findings. "These charges are baseless, motivated by spite and advanced through testimony bought and paid for by promises of anonymity," he said.
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