Tour de France: Is Wiggins the greatest British sportsman ever?

Bradley Wiggins is set to be the first Briton to win the Tour de France as the world's toughest cycle race concludes today

After a mere 109 years of waiting, Britain finally has a Tour de France winner. Yesterday, 32-year-old Bradley Wiggins overcame the last major obstacle with victory in the 53.5km time trial from Bonneval to Chartres, en route to the UK's first outright victory in cycling's blue riband event and arguably the title of Britain's greatest sportsman.

With only today's ceremonial stage into Paris's Champs-Elysées left to race, Wiggins's lead in the 3,497km three-week Grande Boucle is now 3mins 21secs ahead of his Sky team-mate Chris Froome, with Italian Vincenzo Nibali in third. By convention, the Yellow Jersey is not attacked on the final stage.

Regularly named the largest annual sporting event on the planet, the Tour is also rated one of the most fearsomely difficult. With 21 stages, its challenges include up to 5,000m of climbing in the Alps or Pyrenees in a single stage – imagine climbing Ben Nevis three times in a single day.

Treasured by the French as a showcase event for rural France, with TV images frequently dwelling on chateaux and lush green countryside as much as the riders themselves, Le Tour has also been tarnished by some of the worst drugs scandals in sport. Revelations of organised doping in the top-flight Festina team in 1998 and the ongoing investigations into seven-time winner Lance Armstrong are among low points.

If the race has gone through harsh times in the past decade, Wiggins himself has had to overcome some hard personal obstacles, ranging from a tough inner-city upbringing in Kilburn, north London, after his father abandoned the family when he was two years old, to some personal battles with alcohol in 2004.

Previously best known as a triple Olympic gold medallist for Great Britain as a track racer, Wiggins's Tour success has bolstered his profile. Posters on the Mumsnet website were so enamoured by him that they composed poetry. One fan, with the handle Hassled, enthused: "Oh Bradley – your thighs/Cause fluttering and sighs. /My eyes are like saucers /You've turned me into Chaucer."

Born in Ghent, Belgium, "Wiggo" grew up in Kilburn where his mother, Linda, still lives. His heavy-drinking and violent Australian father, Garry, himself a talented cyclist, was, in Wiggins's own words, a "car crash" as a partner and a parent. In his autobiography, In Pursuit of Glory, Wiggins tells that he did not hear from his father between an outing to London Zoo in January 1983 and a phone call in 1997.

The young Wiggins was nevertheless attracted to his father's sport and started racing at London's Herne Hill velodrome when he was 12. By the age of 20, he had won his first Olympic medal and the following year signed for the professional Linda McCartney Racing Team.

Wiggins has admitted he struggled after securing a hat-trick of medals in the 2004 Athens Olympics and fell into binge-drinking. He went on a bender for months that ended only with the birth of his son, Ben, in March 2005. He has said: "I hardly drew a sober breath for nine months." The cyclist went on to win two Olympic gold medals in Beijing in 2008, just months after his father, Garry, was found unconscious in the street in Aberdeen, New South Wales, and died in hospital. It is thought his father had been beaten up.

The cyclist, who lives with his wife Cath and children, Ben and Isabella, in Eccleston, Lancashire, has raced with Team Sky since 2010. His outspokenness on the issue of doping has won him fans. He was part of the Cofidis team that pulled out of the Tour in 2007 after team member Cristian Moreni failed a doping test. On the way home, Wiggins put his kit in a dustbin and vowed never to race in it again. Earlier this month, he said that if he felt he had to take drugs, he would rather stop racing and "work in Tesco stacking shelves".

Wiggins's title comes after an appalling crash forced the Briton to quit the Tour last year with a broken collarbone, and a disappointing 24th place in the 2010 race. This time he has ridden a faultless Tour, snatching the lead in the Vosges mountains on stage seven and then reinforcing his domination of the general classification with a superb time trial victory three days later in Besançon.

Ably supported by the Sky team, the mutton-chopped, 6ft 3in tall Wiggins then defended his lead through six daunting mountain stages in the Pyrenees and Alps. Not even a flare, fired by fans, which burned his arm or having to weave his way through tacks scattered by hooligans on a 60mph descent was able to stop him.

The net result will be that three years after Wiggins equalled Scot Robert Millar's previous best GB result of fourth, the Tour will finally see a Briton in top spot. The second place for Chris Froome, born in Nairobi to British parents, and six British stage wins – with perhaps another for reigning world champion Mark Cavendish today – underlines the extent of the country's domination.

Wiggins's victory in an event that has resisted his nation's athletes for so long also acts as the ideal curtain-raiser for British athletes ahead of the Olympic Games. Both he and Froome will take part in the road race on Saturday, where they will support Cavendish in his attempt to take Britain's first gold of the Games, and again in the time trial – Wiggins's big target – the following Wednesday.

But it is the Tour win that would be the "greatest achievement by any British sportsperson ever", according to four-time Olympic champion Sir Chris Hoy.

Tour challenge

It is the relentless climbing and falling, the soul-destroying length of the Tour de France that breaks men and makes it one of the most physiologically demanding events on earth. Sure, its US rival, the Race Across America, covers greater distances, but it's far flatter and usually over in 10 days. The Marathon des Sables, where runners traipse 151 miles through the Sahara Desert is over in just six.

The physical demands are like no other. Nearly half a million pedal strokes cover 3,497km through some of the most rugged terrain in Europe; the race demands the same level of fitness as running a marathon for 20 days consecutively.Even to be in contention, competitors will have to ride double the miles slogged over by the average competitive cyclist.

The climbs are what make Le Tour so brutal. Cyclists have to battle through about 25 mountain courses in the Alps and the Pyrenees. With more than 21,000m of climbing, it is like scaling Mount Everest three times. Bradley Wiggins put in 100,000m of climbing to prepare for the race. During the race contenders will burn 8,000 calories per day. The biggest climb on any single day is equivalent to nearly 10 Eiffel Towers.

Cyclists plunge down mountains at speeds of up to 80mph. Such dangers are accentuated by often wet and slippery roads. To date Le Tour has claimed four lives.

Kunal Dutta

Voices
Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond delivers his speech at the Scottish National Party (SNP) Spring Conference in Aberdeen, Scotland April 12, 2014.
voices
Arts & Entertainment
Jessica Pare as Megan Draper and Jon Hamm as the troubled, melancholy Don Draper
tvAnd six other questions we hope Mad Men series seven will answer
Life & Style
The new low cost smartphone of Motorola, 'Motorola Moto G', is displayed in Sao Paulo, Brazil on November 13, 2013. The smartphone, with dimensions 65.9mm W x 129.9mm H x 6.0 - 11.6mm D is equipped with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 with quad-core 1,2 GHz CPU, a 4.5-inch display and Android Operating System 4.3 and a suggested price of $ 179 USD.
techData assessing smartphones has revealed tens of millions of phones are at risk of being harvested
News
David Beckham is planning to build a stadium in Miami’s port for a new football team he will own
news... in his fight for a football stadium in Miami's port area
VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
News
weird newsMan live-photographs cracking of mysterious locked box on Reddit
Sport
Oliver Giroud kisses the Arsenal badge after giving the Gunners the lead
sportArsenal 3 West Ham 1: Two goals from the German striker and one piece of brilliance from Giroud puts the Gunners back above Everton
News
Plans to decriminalise non-payment of television licence fees would cost the BBC £500m according to estimates drawn up within the Corporation
people
News
weird news
Arts & Entertainment
Seeing red: James Dean with Sal Mineo in 'Rebel without a Cause'
filmAs 'Rebel without a Cause' is re-released, Geoffrey Macnab reveals how its star James Dean perfected his moody act
News
Obesity surgery in rats has been found to change the way the body processes alcohol
news
Arts & Entertainment
Heads up: Andy Scott's The Kelpies in Falkirk
artThe Kelpies are the latest addition to a growing army of giant sculptures. But naysayers are asking what a pair of gigantic horse heads tells us about Falkirk?
Life & Style
US Airways has been at the centre of a Twitter storm after it responded to customer complaints with a graphic sexual image
techUS Airways takes an interesting approach to customer service
Arts & Entertainment
Philip Arditti as Yossarian and Christopher Price as Milo Minderbinder in Northern Stage's 'Catch-22'
theatre
Arts & Entertainment
The Purple Wedding: Joffrey and Margaery Tyrell tie the knot
TV The second episode of the hit series featured a surprise for viewers
Life & Style
Back to nature: women with body issues have found naked yoga sessions therapeutic
lifeDoing poses in the altogether is already big in the US, and now it’s landed here – in mixed classes
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Move from Audit to Advisory

£45000 per annum + benefits: Pro-Recruitment Group: Move from Audit to Advisor...

Management Consultancy - Operational Research Analysts

£35000 - £50000 per annum + Bonus + Benefits: Pro-Recruitment Group: You must ...

Secondary Teaching Assistant

£60 - £70 per day: AER Teachers: THE SCHOOL: This outstanding Secondary School...

Application Support Analyst (MS SQL, java based webserver, batch scripting)

£36000 - £40000 Per Annum On call allowance.: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Day In a Page

Homelessness: Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

Zubairi Sentongo swapped poverty in Uganda for homelessness in Britain. But a YMCA scheme connected him with a couple offering warmth and shelter
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park
The pain of IVF

The pain of IVF

As an Italian woman vows to keep the babies from someone else’s eggs, Julian Baggini ponders how the reality of childbirth is often messier than the natural ideal
Supersize art

Is big better? Britain's latest super-sized art

The Kelpies are the latest addition to a growing army of giant sculptures. But naysayers are asking what a pair of gigantic horse heads tells us about Falkirk?
James Dean: Back on the big screen

James Dean: Back on the big screen

As 'Rebel without a Cause' is re-released, Geoffrey Macnab reveals how its star perfected his moody act
Catch-22: How the cult classic was adapted for the stage

How a cult classic was adapted for the stage

More than half a century after it was published 'Catch-22' will make its British stage debut next week
10 best activity books for children

10 best activity books for children

Keep little ones busy this bank holiday with one of these creative, educational and fun books
Arsenal 3 West Ham United 1: Five things we learnt from the battle between the London sides

Five things we learnt from Arsenal's win over West Ham

Arsenal still in driving seat for Champions League spot and Carroll can make late charge into England’s World Cup squad
Copa del Rey final: Barcelona are paying for their complacency and not even victory over Real Madrid will put things right

Pete Jenson on the Copa del Rey final

Barcelona are paying for their complacency and not even victory over Real Madrid will put things right
Rafa to reign? Ten issues clay courts will serve up this season

Rafa to reign? Ten issues clay courts will serve up this season

With the tennis circus now rolling on to the slowest surface, Paul Newman highlights who'll be making the headlines – and why
Exclusive: NHS faces financial disaster in 2015 as politicians urged to find radical solution

NHS faces financial disaster in 2015

Politicians urged to find radical solution
Ukraine crisis: How spontaneous are the pro-Russian protests breaking out in Ukraine’s east?

Ukraine crisis

How spontaneous are the pro-Russian protests breaking out in Ukraine’s east?
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: The first execution at the Tower of London for 167 years

The first execution at the Tower of London for 167 years

A history of the First World War in 100 moments
Fires could turn Amazon rainforest into a desert as human activity and climate change threaten ‘lungs of the world’, says study

New threat to the Amazon rainforest:

Fires that scorch the ‘lungs of the Earth’
Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester City: And the winner of this season’s Premier League title will be...

Who’s in box seat now? The winner of the title will be ...

Who is in best shape to take the Premier League prize?