Bradley Wiggins' stylish triumph in the Tour de France brought the perfect prelude to the London Olympics. Here was a victory that no one with a stake in London 2012 – not Lord Coe, not David Cameron, not even Boris Johnson or Tony Blair – could have scripted in their wildest dreams. For a Briton, and a London native, to win the world's premier cycle race for the first time is a crowning personal achievement for Wiggins, but cannot but be hailed as a national success, too. That it was a British one-two, with Chris Froome second, and Mark Cavendish winning the final stage, only made the victory sweeter.
There will be those who see in Wiggins' trophy proof that Britain has gained the upper hand in a new chapter of the old cross-Channel rivalry. There was more than an element of national one-upmanship when Britain beat France to host this year's Olympics, and Union flags were much in evidence, with enthusiastic wavers, all the way to the finish yesterday.
Healthy national pride, though, which Britain too often lacks, is quite different from jingoism, and it was the former that was mostly on show in France – as we hope it will be in the coming weeks in London. And it would be to traduce the spirit in which this race was won to reduce it to a contest for national superiority. The French were generous to a fault – as they have been, by and large, to previous foreign champions. And the Tour has evolved into a uniquely challenging and characterful global event that showcases France, rather than French cycling prowess. Unless perhaps you are French, there is nothing wrong with that.
Nostalgics may criticise Team Sky for their highly technical approach to the race, but common decency shone through, too. Wiggins' response to tacks on the road – a rare act of sabotage on the Tour – showed due respect for the sport's honour code and was much appreciated by the French. That he also speaks their language was another plus that his monoglot compatriots would do well to note.
While unambiguously a personal triumph for Bradley Wiggins and his commitment, yesterday's result was no less of a triumph for British cycling, which has gone from being a peripheral professional sport to a national flagship within not much more than a decade. How this happened is well documented, and reflects a combination of vision, money, science and, no less, dedicated individuals. One result was the clutch of British cycling medals in Beijing, and the high hopes that accompany Team GB cyclists to London.
It cannot be denied that cycling is a sport – though hardly the only one – where technology makes a difference. And one result of success on the track is that Britain is now known not just for its cyclists, but for world-beating design and professional back-up. This success lights a path for other sports to follow.
As technology-led Formula 1 shows, however, there is no substitute for the human factor. Whoever wins the Tour de France must be master of all aspects of the sport. And it is the image of Wiggins, in the yellow jersey, all eagerness and focus behind his handle-bars, that will remain in the memory and inevitably set a tone for the British contingent when the Olympics open this week. Nor for the Olympics alone. British cycling was already experiencing a surge in popularity – in part a product of success in Beijing, but also of today's quest to be fit and environmentally friendly. Wiggins' victory in Paris sets a whole new standard for British cycling, but it comes with an uplifting personal story and the Tour's sense of romance that cannot but inspire generations to come.