There are few superlatives left to describe the magnitude and significance of Bradley Wiggins’ achievements this year. The thesaurus has run dry.
Instead, the roar of hundreds of thousands of spectators who had lined the 44.5km course to produce a wall of noise for a new national hero provided the greatest testament to Wiggins’ – and cycling’s – new-found status.
Having triumphed in the men’s time trial on Wednesday, his fourth gold and seventh medal of any colour to become Great Britain’s most prolific Olympian, Wiggins described the sterile, ticketed start/finish area at Hampton Court as “a bit of a prawn sandwich fest”.
There was little evidence of that outside the gates of Henry VIII’s palace, however, as, just as they had for the weekend’s road races, spectators – us included – lined the streets of Surrey three, four or five-deep to provide a tunnel of noise as Tour de France champion Wiggins rode to gold, and Tour runner-up Chris Froome to bronze.
On the face of it, road cycling isn’t the Olympic Games’ most captivating sport. The road race peloton whizzes past in a flash, a blur of colour, while the time trial sees individual riders fly by, head down, a harsh grimace etched on their faces.
Instead, it’s the anticipation which captivates the crowd. The succession of riders in a time trial provides a steady stream of action, with excitement building as the late starters – the race’s chief protagonists – prepare to roll off the start ramp.
A whisper spreads like wild fire – “Wiggins is 11 seconds up” – and a roar goes up. Motorcycles then scream through the chicane on which we are standing and the television helicopter thuds into view before Wiggins, like a dart in-flight to bullseye – streams through.
Wednesday’s race of truth was the hottest ticket in town and spectators didn’t have to shell out a single penny to watch history in the making. Cast your mind back a year, or even a couple of months, and few – if any – would have predicted the way in which cycling has captured the nation’s imagination – our sport has even kicked football into touch.
“When you win in the velodrome there are three or four thousand people cheering. Here, around the streets of London, the noise is just amazing. It’s just been phenomenal,” said Wiggins.
You’re right, Wiggo, it was phenomenal. Here are some images from the roadside in Hampton Wick. Bradley Wiggins – The People’s Champion.