At some point in the next 24 hours* a Briton clad in figure-hugging lycra the colour of a canary, wearing sideburns the size of a département and sporting the logo of the MSM’s least favourite organisation will cross a line on the Champs Elysées in Paris and become the winner of the Tour de France. It will be the greatest achievement in British sporting history.
I say “greatest achievement” because there is nothing to compare with the Tour de France. It is by far the toughest event in sport. Just to complete the course is an achievement – three weeks of aching legs plus burning lungs plus crashes plus saddle sores plus mountains thins out the densest of fields. It towers above other events in cycling. Sure, the sport may have a World Champion (a Briton, as it happens) and Olympic champions (including many Britons) but the winners of those competitions would give their eye teeth (plus molars, incisors and anything else they could find in their mouths) to win the Tour.
Up until recently Britons had never been particularly good at cycling and awful at the Tour de France. Prior to the 1990s only one Briton had ever worn the leader’s yellow jersey. In the 1960s the British team – it was run on national lines in those days – had to pad itself out with anyone who could get a passport. This included one rider, Michael Wright, who despite being born in England with an impeccably English name could barely speak the language.
So, what happened? Reading between the lines of an ITV4 documentary the other night the answer would seem to be ruthless professionalism. Team Sky, Wiggins’s employers, building (loathe as I am to admit it) on state-funded Olympic success have left almost nothing to chance. Wiggins’s training has combined significant weight loss (so he can climb faster) with special exercises to strengthen his lower back (so that his torso has greater rigidity which creates less drag so making him time trial faster). His highly-talented team mates have had to sacrifice their own ambitions for that of the team. Twice, mountain specialist Chris Froome (who will be runner-up tomorrow and may well go on to win the Tour in years to come) has had to wait for Wiggins when a stage victory was there for the taking. Meanwhile, Mark Cavendish, the greatest sprinter in the world, has spent large parts of the tour as little more than a water bottle carrier.
By the way, I can’t help notice that the team’s sponsor, Wiggins’s coach, his late father and a couple of the riders are/were Australians. So, Australia’s greatest ever sporting achievement then, if it wasn’t for the fact that an Australian won it last year? Oh, and the fact that they count test cricket as a sport.
* Barring a truly bizarre set of events or a positive dope test. (It will not, not, not be to do with someone riding faster than him.)