Our greatest-ever Olympian? Bradley Wiggins is even bigger than that

His achievements are staggering – and he has transformed our sporting landscape

Arguments are already under way over whether Bradley Wiggins is now Britain's greatest-ever Olympian by dint of his seven medals to Steve Redgrave's six. But not in doubt is that what he has achieved in 2012 is unprecedented, staggering, and has transformed the sporting landscape.

In six months, Wiggins has gone from the biggest fish in the relatively small pond of cycling to a figure who looms vast in the national consciousness, currently enjoying fame on an almost Beckhamesque level, and for many people embodying the very best of British in the egalitarian, metropolitan, post-Danny Boyle sense.

The Henry VIII throne Wiggins sat in at Hampton Court yesterday after he had added Olympic gold to his Tour de France victory could not have been more inappropriate. Like Beckham, a central facet of Wiggins's appeal is that he is a natural stylist who still, at some level, has remained one of us.

In part that's because cycling is a great leveller. It's a sport, as Wiggins showed in the Tour, where you can be a star one day and a humble worker the next. Wiggins' very London brand of street wisdom, which manifests itself in the driest of wits and the most ironic of outlooks, is hugely endearing, and if anyone can survive this onslaught of celebrity you'd back Wiggins to do so.

Offers and demands will be pouring in, but Wiggins desperately needs a break. His pre-Tour victories in 2012 – Paris-Nice, the Tour de Romandie, the Dauphiné Libéré – would have constituted a remarkable year even without what followed. To go on to win the Tour de France and then pulverise the time-trial opposition to secure his gold yesterday – after the effort he expended in supporting Mark Cavendish in Saturday's road race – might just add up to the most remarkable sequence of athletic feats in British sporting history.

His career now is at a crossroads. "It's never going to be better," he said yesterday. "There was a slight melancholy on the podium. Nothing will top that now." He didn't rule out competing at Rio in 2016, but on the track rather than on the road, and at 32, there are signs that his willingness to suffer the sacrifices needed to maintain such a level of intensity may be limited.

Interviewed on TV on Tuesday, he shook his head almost in disbelief at what he had put himself and his wife and two children through this year. "It really isn't conducive to family life," he said, adding that there was no way he would be doing a Lance Armstrong and winning six more Tours. There was a clear implication that you would have to be mad to do such a thing, and Wiggins is a man who values his sanity. Hanging on to it will be a priority.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Powdered colors are displayed for sale at a market ahead of the Holi festival in Bhopal, India
techHere's what you need to know about the riotous occasion
Arts and Entertainment
Larry David and Rosie Perez in ‘Fish in the Dark’
theatreReview: Had Fish in the Dark been penned by a civilian it would have barely got a reading, let alone £10m advance sales
News
Details of the self-cleaning coating were published last night in the journal Science
science
News
Approved Food sell products past their sell-by dates at discounted prices
i100
News
Life-changing: Simone de Beauvoir in 1947, two years before she wrote 'The Second Sex', credited as the starting point of second wave feminism
peopleHer seminal feminist polemic, The Second Sex, has been published in short-form to mark International Women's Day
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

Homeless Veterans campaign

Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

Lost without a trace

But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

Confessions of a planespotter

With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

Russia's gulag museum

Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

The big fresh food con

Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

Virginia Ironside was my landlady

Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

Paris Fashion Week 2015

The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
8 best workout DVDs

8 best workout DVDs

If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

Paul Scholes column

I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable