Allez allez allez! What’s that? A British one-two in the Tour de France? Absolutely. Congratulations to Bradley Wiggins – king of the rue, home and away, and an inspiration to us all.
Surely it won’t be long now before there’s a knighthood, and hopefully more Olympic medals on the mantelpiece at Brad’s all mod cons pad in rural Lancashire – nicely complementing all those other honours on his impressive sideboards.
Sorry. I’ll stop there with the mod and sideburns witticisms, for the first Briton to win the Tour in its 109-year history. From the mountains to the time trials, Wiggins excelled and proved the experts wrong. And his victory acceptance speech proved curiously British too, suggesting a sense of humour we’ve rarely heard and deflecting from that bloody awful Leslie Garrett rendition of the national anthem just before.
It was as good as all over as a race before Wiggo’s final frantic approach on the Champs-Elysees on Sunday, but he was clearly not content to just ‘cote’ home, and the adopted Lancastrian helped team-mate Mark Cavendish, Manx missile and 2011 Sports Personality of the Year, towards his own little bit of Tour history with yet another final stage victory. And on the day Chris Froome secured second overall, Wiggo was quick to big-up his fellow Team Sky riders.
Two-a-penny these top-of-their game cyclists around Lancashire these days. At least that’s how it appears. You can’t go down a local road without bumping in to Sir Chris Hoy, Jason Queally or fellow Team GB Olympic hero Wiggins. Or so it would seem. You certainly would have struggled last week to get past all the TV crews fighting to interview stalwarts of Lancashire cycling clubs or shopkeepers, landlords, barmaids or dentists who may have served or treated Bradders/Wiggers/Wiggo (you decide) these past few years.
As a regional journalist a few years back, I tried to track down the elusive Wiggins myself, but came to the conclusion that while his family address was the village just down the road, he actually lived on his saddle. The closest I got was via a self-styled press officer who jealously guarded all access, not even letting me tell how many children he had. I understand Wiggins is a private man and doesn’t want a stream of journo scum lining his drive, but this was the local rag – not The Currant Bun.
I did catch up with Queally a few times. A lovely bloke too, as I’m sure is the case with our latest cycling hero. Last time we met he was just back from a training ride with Hoy on the West Pennines bordering Chorley. I always liked the idea of these two Olympic heroes being spotted by picnicking families heading up Rivington Pike.
My views on lycra and the horrible shapes it makes on the human arse remain, but I feel proud that I have on my patch a succession of cyclists (would a better collective term be a pedalo? Perhaps Preston’s Freddie Flintoff would know). It seems that they were all lured to Lancs by the state-of-art Manchester Velodrome and some serious hills to stretch those tendons to capacity.
Things may change now there’s a new velodrome at Stratford, barely 10 miles from the Herne Hill track where London-raised Wiggins made his cycling debut 20 years ago, aged 12 (the only remaining London 1948 Olympic Games venue still in use, I believe). But I’m not convinced an exodus of pedal-punishing cyclists will follow from the North-West. For one thing, these riders know just how much comparative bang they can get for their bucks on the housing market up north.
It wouldn’t really matter if they did all move though, particularly now Brad has ensured that love of cycling has transferred to the national stage, something started by Merseyside’s Chris Boardman track pursuit gold at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, a major inspiration for Hoy, Queally and co as they spear-headed a veritable explosion of track cycling success at Sydney 2000 and beyond.
That was helped by the splendid daily coverage on ITV4, with Gary Imlach (whose book My Father and Other Working Class Football Heroes is a superb read, while we’re at it) and Boardman himself keeping us up to date with Wiggins’ and co throughout, from those gruelling mountain climbs to ‘Tackgate’ and beyond.
Wiggins’ own national breakthrough also came on the track, and in my formative years I kind of assumed that road racing was just something those European types were good at, with Belgian Eddy Merckx the big star back then. That perception had changed to some degree by 2002, when I was on hand to see Horwich stage the 2002 Commonwealth Games road races. And while cricket legend Sir Clive Lloyd handed out most of the medals to the Aussies that day (including 2011 Tour de France winner Cadel Evans), there was also a gold medal for Wales’ Nicole Cooke.
Now we’re all fired up for London 2012, hopefully there’ll be plenty more cycling glory to come – on the track and on the road – not least from a strong women’s team including the delightfully-named Wendy Houvenaghel and Jess Varnish, golden girl Victoria Pendleton and BMX star Shanaze Reade, just a few of the names that have helped spread the word even further afield.
So thanks Brad. You’ve sown the seed. Let’s hope that inspired three-week spell on the saddle will now rub off on the rest of Team GB, with plenty more medals to come. And as long as it doesn’t involve a further explosion in lycra sales, I can live with that.