The Mobot. The Queen jumping out of a helicopter. Boris’s awkward abseiling. The Pirlo Panenka. Gold post boxes.
Considering the heavyweight rivals to the crown, there is an undisputed monarch. The Sun King. The King of London on his throne at London 2012.
To be fair to Bradley Wiggins, he had a head start that Mo Farah, Boris Johnson, Danny Boyle or Clare Balding couldn’t even dream of. Even before the year started to defrost, “Wiggo” was a character readily recognised on the streets of Britain. In an era where our Premier League stars are coached to deliberately speak in controversy-avoidance clichés (We knew they’d be well organised. My difficulties in front of goal have been well documented. That was the first I’d heard about it), he was the guy who had the sideburns, who loved that bloke out of The Jam, who made Piers Morgan look a bit stupid, allegedly. Oh yeah… and he had six medals from three Olympics. We knew who he was even if we weren’t that bothered about two-wheeled-human-powered sport.
You’d have to have been something of a reactionary not to. The type who only likes a band until they sell any records, or who loved The Cuckoo’s Calling before realising Robert Galbraith was actually the pseudonym of J K Rowling. Not only did he display all the traits listed above – lifted on angels’ wings to exalted levels according to us fans, naturally – he was a genuine grafter made good. This lad with the long levers, a Commonwealth Games silver medallist at 18, had been earmarked by us as a man destined for a career as a distinguished rouleur, a much-cherished teammate, a superdomestique with his own occasional day in the sun. A Sean Yates for the 21st Century. We’d love him, cheer ourselves hoarse for him, drink to his Olympic track medals and dream of the day he hit the Roubaix Velodrome in the front group with Fabian Cancellara and Tom Boonen.
He was the Real Thing, too. Awarded an OBE at 24 after bringing home three medals from the 2004 Olympics for his country. Becoming a true continental road warrior after Athens, determined to earn a career on hard tarmac rather than the more niche boarding of a velodrome. Going on a 190km lone break in the Tour de France on the 40th anniversary of Tom Simpson’s tragic death. Perhaps what struck the loudest note was his actions upon being one of the Cofidis riders removed from the Tour thanks to a teammate’s unveiling as a drug cheat: he stuffed his team kit in a bin at Pau Airport and flew home disgusted.
In 2009, he moved to the more communicative atmosphere of the US Garmin-Slipstream squad and dropped a stone somewhere along the way. After a time trial-heavy first week at the Tour de France, the former trackie’s legs had put him in a rarefied position near the top of the rankings; a placing that the mountains would surely shake him free of. Except they didn’t. The Pyrenees came and went. A weekend in Switzerland failed to shift him. He left the Alps behind without taking any big hits, then rode a great time trial around Lake Annecy to confirm his credentials. All that remained was an ascent of the mountain so feared by all pros, but especially British Tour pretenders: Tom Simpson’s nemesis, the bald mountain, Mont Ventoux. Just for fun, the organisers had matched the peak’s geographical status as an outlier by putting it as the race’s final meaningful stage, with just the ceremonial roll up and down the Champs Elysees to follow.
If anyone doubted the Londoner’s “ticker” beforehand, Ventoux won over the most recalcitrant cynic. The 6’3” track rider crossed the line on top of cycling’s most revered summit in a scarcely believable 8th place, confirming that he would finish 4th in Paris. He was a contender.
As the jewel in the crown of the carefully constructed British super squad, Team Sky, his build up had been imperious, with wins in races huge in their own right: Paris-Nice, the Tour of Romandie, the Critérium du Dauphiné. Looking at the bare results, you could be forgiven for thinking that the event itself was a waltz for Sky, taking both first and second place with the addition of Chris Froome, and a glut of stage wins driven by an energised Mark Cavendish. The results hid the truth of an emotional whirlwind, with our emotional, devotional hero at the heart of it.
A LeBlanq man, steeped in the story. From leaning on the Champs Elysees barriers as a lanky junior schoolboy, taken by his Mum as one of a handful of British daytrippers to cheer on their hero Sean Yates. To leading out Mark Cavendish for a blistering finish on that same bit of road: Cav the stage winner, Wiggo the race winner. And the man behind the wheel of the Team Sky Jaguar following them, calmly congratulating the man in yellow, the man in the rainbow jersey and the others in the Sky train via their earpieces? Sean Yates. We love a story.
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