Tour de France: Wonderful Wiggins shatters the glass ceiling
British leader wins his second Tour stage by claiming the final time trial to set up victory procession with Sky team-mate
A six foot-plus mutton chopped 32-year-old from Kilburn called Bradley Wiggins is all but guaranteed to become Britain's first ever Tour de France winner today, a landmark for the country's sport that fellow cyclist Sir Chris Hoy has already hailed as "the greatest achievement by a British athlete." Wiggins crowned his Tour triumph in the best way possible yesterday, claiming the final time trial, his second stage win in the race, by over a minute on Chris Froome, an almost equally amazing second overall and second on yesterday's stage.
Already a triple Olympic gold medalist, Wiggins will also be remembered as the rider who broke a 109-year-old glass ceiling for Great Britain in the Tour de France, sport's toughest endurance event. Just in time for the Olympics too, where the Sky rider's Tour win will hopefully pave the way for top-notch British performances.
Come what may in the Games, they should not overshadow Wiggins's Tour performance. Until today, no British rider has stood on the final podium, let alone in the top spot and just two have taken secondary classifications, Robert Millar in the King of the Mountains category in 1984 and Mark Cavendish in the points jersey for best sprinter in 2011.
For years British Tour performances in the overall classification have been scarred by frustrated hopes and budding stars who failed to live up to expectations, as well as the tragedy of Tom Simpson, the previous all-time great of cycling and Wiggins's idol, who died on the slopes of the Mont Ventoux in 1967.
Cavendish may have made the bunch sprints his private property in recent years and Millar dominated the mountains in the 1980s, but beyond Wiggins and Millar's equal fourth place overall and Simpson's sixth in 1962, for British cycling the yellow jersey seemed like an utterly unfulfillable dream. However, a line in the history books of the Tour with a Britain as the winner is now less than one of Wiggins's whiskers away of becoming reality. And his final triumph yesterday underlined the crushing domination the Briton has had on this year's race.
"In the last 10 kilometres of that time trial a lot of thoughts were spurring me on," Wiggins – who crossed the line punching the air – said, "like about when I was growing up and thinking as a kid that I wanted to win the Tour, but what chance did a 12-year-old form Kilburn have of doing that? First the Olympics and the World Championships, and now this: it's been an incredible journey."
Asked what the Tour meant to him, Wiggins said: "I've got a lot in my life outside my sport and I'd give this up tomorrow for that if need be. But in a sporting sense, you need something to aspire to, and the Tour has been that for me for the last four years. So perhaps not in life, but yes, this is my greatest sporting achievement"
"Bradley has been the strongest," Froome conceded. "For us, the objective was for us to win the Tour with him and my second place is a bonus."
Wiggins was always the favourite, not just from when the Tour left Liège on 30 June, but from the point where he started racking up a series of stage race victories this spring that indicated that his third place in the Tour of Spain and fourth in the 2009 Tour had not been achieved by chance.
Faultlessly-captured wins in the Paris-Nice, Tour of Romandie and Criterium Du Dauphiné stage races indicated the Briton was on track for a perfect summer. Sky placing three out of the top four in the Dauphine in June also confirmed the team was ready to back up whatever top performance Wiggins could produce.
Britain's hitherto unprecedented achievement has required huge amounts of toil behind the scenes. Not least of those was the colossal training effort put in by Wiggins and three key team-mates – Kanstantsin Sivtsov, Froome and Michael Rogers – this spring, riding their bikes for around 100,000 metres of vertical climbing on Mount Teide in Tenerife. The Canaries and Mallorca became Wiggins's second home as the relentless training program saw him lose eight kilos of muscle, his arms so thin that team-mates would joke they could see the light shining through them. But that would pay dividends on the Tour's mountains.
Has the effort, the training and the dieting, the weeks away from home, all been worth it? Wiggins has no doubt. "To be a Tour winner is to be part of a very special list. As for being the first Briton and better than [previous British Tour greats like] Robert Millar and Tom Simpson, I still never see myself up with those names, I never imagined I could do better than them"
"The greatest danger now is complacency," was how Dave Brailsford summed up the British breakthrough performance in the 2008 Olympics, with seven track golds out of a possible 10, but if Sky wish to do themselves some back-patting they can hardly be blamed. Out of Britain's six stage wins in this Tour, equalling the previous best set by Cavendish in 2009, Sky have taken five, and another for Cavendish may yet come today. With Wiggins in first and Froome in second, Sky are the first team to take the top two spots overall in the Tour in 16 years. But it is the yellow that matters the most.
Cliche it may be but as 109 years of waiting comes to an end for Great Britain in the Tour de France the Sky truly does feel like the limit.
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