Bradley Wiggins is rapidly approaching sporting immortality, in Great Britain at least.
The Londoner delivered the fourth gold-medal winning performance of his illustrious career yesterday by winning the men’s Olympic time trial and dominates the front page of every national newspaper this morning after thrusting his Games resumé back into the spotlight.
Pre-London, his track career had become little more than a footnote (bronze in in Sydney, three medals, one of each colour in Athens, and a golden double in Beijing), evidenced by the absurd ‘overnight sensation’ reports in the international press after he assumed leadership of the Tour de France.
Yesterday’s ride to his seventh medal continued an unbeaten run against the clock this season in all but prologue time trials (Cancellara bested him by seven seconds at the Tour; Luke Durbridge finished a single second faster at the Dauphine).
The manner of Wiggins’ victory yesterday was imperious. Despite looking decidedly uncomfortable on the ‘thrones’ placed outside Hampton Court Palace for the three leading riders, even remounting his bike to ride back to the fans on the free-to-view area outside the gates, there is something regal about his position on a time trial bike; his back flat enough to support a silver tea service.
His rivals for gold yesterday were no less than the world’s finest time trialists. With the exception of Fabian Cancellara, who bravely rode with an injury, the result of a crash in last Saturday’s road race, his competitors were in fine form. Tony Martin’s silver medal ride was evidence that the German had shaken off the residual effects of a broken wrist suffered in the Tour de France. Having abandoned the Tour after nine stages, and the Olympic road race after 180km, he began yesterday more rested than Wiggins.
Chris Froome bolstered his reputation as a fully fledged talent by riding to bronze, arriving at the first and second checkpoints and the finish line faster than all who had ridden before him, and succumbing only to the effort of his Sky team leader and the world time trial champion.
The cheers from the thousands who lined yesterday’s 44km course were louder only for Wiggins, and then marginally so. RCUK set up camp Sigma Sport yesterday, just two miles down the road from Hampton Court Palace, and directly facing the time trial course. For co-owner, Jason Turner, whose day included frantically rigging up an outdoor television screen after the shop became an impromptu hub for a sizeable chunk of Surrey’s cycling community, Wiggins’ victory was an emotional moment.
What next for Wiggins? A knighthood seems inevitable, and perhaps even the Sports Personality of the Year Award. His Tour de France victory alone would merit both. By adding another gold medal to his palmares and becoming the nation’s most decorated Olympian, he will have persuaded the vast swathes of the British public proud of his achievement in the Tour but perhaps not fully understanding its magnitude (the post-Olympic road race ‘why didn’t Cavendish win’ debate showed how little bike racing is understood in the country by the public at large).
Britain’s most successful Olympian is a cyclist. We’ll raise a glass to that.