Wiggins rides into British Olympic history

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Like so many of the great performers, Bradley Wiggins left his best to the very last. The colour of the prize won by the 24-year-old Londoner alongside Rob Hayles in the madison track cycling event here yesterday may have been bronze, unlike his first two medals here, but the manner in which he rode into British Olympic history was the stuff of sporting legend. Having recovered from an early crash which sent Hayles and his bike flying across the boards, the Britons fought back to secure third place in the very last moments of the race.

Like so many of the great performers, Bradley Wiggins left his best to the very last. The colour of the prize won by the 24-year-old Londoner alongside Rob Hayles in the madison track cycling event here yesterday may have been bronze, unlike his first two medals here, but the manner in which he rode into British Olympic history was the stuff of sporting legend. Having recovered from an early crash which sent Hayles and his bike flying across the boards, the Britons fought back to secure third place in the very last moments of the race.

Yesterday's medal followed Wiggins' gold in the individual pursuit and silver in the team event and puts him alongside Mary Rand, who won long jump gold, pentathlon silver and sprint relay bronze at the Tokyo Olympics in 1964, as the only Britons to win three medals at an Olympics since the war. Although another Briton, Henry Taylor, won three swimming golds at the 1908 Olympics, he could surely not have defied the odds in the way that Wiggins did yesterday.

The madison is a helter-skelter event, in which 18 teams of two riders race for 200 laps. The two riders take it in turn to race, handing over to their partner every three or four circuits to enable them to take a breather before it is their turn to race again. Provided the teams have all completed the same number of circuits, the outcome is decided by points awarded in 10 different sprints during the race. Hayles and Wiggins put down their marker immediately, winning the first sprint in commanding style. Germany, Australia and Ukraine had moved ahead by the halfway stage, each gaining a lap on the field by breaking away from the front of the pack, but the Britons' strategy had been to play a waiting game after their initial burst.

What was not in the game plan, however, was the crash which sent Hayles flying halfway through the race. The 31-year-old from Portsmouth, who had suffered the agony of crashing two laps from the finish when he and Wiggins were in the silver medal position in this event four years ago, was helped to his feet and put on a spare bike.

Wiggins stayed out in front while Hayles and his bike underwent running repairs. Having changed his spare back to his original bike, which was refitted with two new wheels, Hayles rejoined Wiggins on the track and the British pair set about rediscovering their rhythm. However, with only two sprints left the Britons were trailing in seventh place, six teams ahead of them having completed an additional circuit.

It was now or never and the Britons suddenly launched an attack in search of the extra lap. With the large British contingent in the crowd roaring them on, they had the lap under their belt in less than three minutes, but as the final sprint approached they knew they needed points to make sure of the bronze. On the penultimate lap Wiggins handed over to Hayles, who launched himself into the leading group. He was narrowly beaten into third place behind Switzerland, the silver medallists, and Australia, who won the gold, but the points were enough to secure third place.

Hayles was a relieved man. "I had visions of Sydney when I went down," he said after the race. "The French guy clipped my wheel, but if it had been a car accident it would have been my fault. I thought the British public must think I'm an absolute idiot.

"And when I got on the spare bike - which was the bike I'd fallen on in Sydney - it all felt absolutely horrendous. But I knew as soon as I'd fallen that I was OK and once I got back on the first bike I knew we could still do it. I've been waiting for this medal. Brad and I always talk about Sydney - not because we're bitter but because it was something we've been through. It's given us inspiration."

Wiggins could hardly have been more laid-back after the race, particularly as there was an anxious moment or two before a German appeal over their points total was rejected. "I race the six-day circuit and I knew pretty well everyone out there," Wiggins said. "It was all in an evening's work in a six-day event. It's something I'm used to.

"After the crash the initial response was to panic and go for the lap, but it would have been the wrong thing to do. I think we chose the right moment to go for it. To come back from a crash like that was fantastic. I was feeling quite good and relaxed and I was ready to wait until Rob was ready."

After winning his second medal of the Games in the team pursuit, Wiggins said that he had taken a day off to prepare himself for yesterday's race. "We spent a little time away from the village and I actually had a pint of beer," he said. "I know it did me more good than harm. I came here tonight and I felt really motivated to race."

Could he appreciate the enormity of his achievement? "Growing up in London as a kid and riding over the last few years I never thought anything like this would happen to me," he said. "I'm always an optimist, but until it actually happens you can't believe it. I was 12 when I watched Chris Boardman win the gold in Barcelona and that inspired me, but I never for a moment really thought I could achieve anything like that."

Comments