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Well done Bradley Wiggins, ruthless professional

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.)

15 comments to Well done Bradley Wiggins, ruthless professional

  • The efficiency and discipline of Team Sky has been astounding.

    However I must disagree with you slightly. The greatest achievement in British sporting history is not this victory. It is that the manner in which Team Sky has won will forever change the way teams compete in the Tour De France.

  • In Olympic cycling, Australia won many gold medals – six or seven – in 2000 and 2004. In 2008, though, Australia won not a single gold (although they won plenty of silvers and bronzes) and Great Britain won a large portion of the golds. Part of the explanation was that Britain’s state funded Olympic training program had offered more money to all the coaches from Australia’s state funded Olympic training program. (This was in the days of GBP 1 = AUD 2.50, and for a short time the British were actually better funded). That this would lead to a Briton winning the Tour de France shortly after an Australian won it is perhaps not too surprising.

    (Australians resented the fact that the British bought their coaches. After all, Australia had bought them from East Germany fair and square after 1990. It really is that depressing. Of all the talented people who could have been lured away from Russia, East Germany and elsewhere in the former communist bloc after 1989, Australia went for the sports coaches. After all, gold medals are so much more important than (say) the sorts of tech economies that exist in Silicon Valley and Tel Aviv).

  • Dave Walker

    Cycling is another sport (one of many) created by the British, of course; the bicycle having been invented by a Scotsman.

    It’s great to see that we’re finally getting good at it.

  • Richard Thomas

    If anything exemplifies government spending consuming large amounts of money, time and energy to end up back where you started with no useful end, its sport.

  • Tedd

    What Richard said.

    But I thought the Tour de France stopped using national teams years ago. The Wikipedia article on it doesn’t say anything about national teams being used now, unless I missed it. What gives?

  • What gives? Your eyesight I think.

    “In the 1960s the British team…”

  • Tedd

    “In the 1960s the British team…”

    No, I saw that, it was the discussion above about coaches that confused me. I thought at first that they were still talking about the Tour de France. Sorry.

  • Australia and later Britain have had state funded programs to develop Olympic athletes and win gold medals. In both cases, cycling has been a target sport due to the large number of Olympic cycling events, a relative lack of depth – only a few countries are good at it – and the fact that the same athletes can and do compete in multiple events. (All this means that cycling provides good returns if you are running a state funded sports programme with the principal aim of coming as high up the medal table as possible).

    Therefore, Australia and Britain have large and high quality state funded coaching programs for cyclists. Athletes such as Bradley Wiggins (a three time Olympic Gold medalist as well as now a Tour de France winner) have benefited from these, and this has helped them in the Tour de France, even though this itself no longer is competed for by national teams and this is not the direct aim of the the state funded coaching programs.

    Incidentally, Wiggins has gone straight back into training after winning the Tour de France, rather than holding a large party as would be normal. He has two Olympic events to compete in next week. Although these are not as big a deal as the Tour de France, more gold medals would be icing on the cake, and he owes good performances in these to his state funded coaches.

  • Sam P

    I’d put it a bit stronger than Michael: Sky Pro Cycling is a commercially sponsored outpost of British Cycling.

    Not only are a number of Team Sky riders going straight from the Tour de France to the Olympics, a good chunk of senior management in Sky have the same or similar position in BC, e.g. Dave Brailsford, Shane Sutton, Dr. Steve Peters.

    Here’s a quote from Rod Ellingworth (coach on Sky and former coach of one of BC’s Under 23 programs) straight off the Team Sky website: “The Olympics are a big objective for us. This team was set up to support the Olympic programme from the road point of view but also from the track as well.”

    Sky really did a number this year at the TdF.
    Mark Cavendish won three stages and has an excellent shot at winning the Olympic road race.
    Bradley Wiggins won the overall race and two stages (the time trials), and has an excellent shot at winning the Olympic time trial (the road race is pretty flat so highly likely it will end in a sprint, hence Wiggins will be there to help Cavendish win).
    Chris Froome won a stage, was second three times (two of them the time trials) and was second in the overall race, and has an excellent chance at silver in the time trial.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    An interesting point is that no Frenchman has won the Tour for many years. And yet we often get told that France is a country that invests more public funds into such things.

    Anyway, never mind any carping. Wiggins deserves all the plaudits and he seems to be a decent guy as well, although with questionable facial hair. And he does not seem to have that slightly menacing personality that I see in Lance Armstrong.

  • I don’t understand the fascination with “sports” that are essentially nothing more than different kinds of racing – cycling, running, swimming etc – all it is is watching people go from point A to point B, so unless betting is involved I don’t see how anyone can get excited over it.

    Vicarious experience might be one explanation – but I’ve done cycling, running and swimming for years and never given a thought to watching their respective competitions on TV. To me they were never anything more than exercise or (in the case of swimming), larking about at the beach.

  • Edward Smith

    I hope he is as ruthless in managing his Post-Olympic income (and tax exposure) as he has been in winning the races.

  • Doesn’t he get to bone Sheryl Crowe now, as well?

  • Alisa

    No – she can’t spare a square…

  • Grant Freedom

    The contrarian in me delights in thanking the Murdochs for funding this achievement.