Bradley Wiggins ended a 109-year wait as he became the first Brit to win the Tour de France on Sunday, standing atop the podium in Paris and wearing the coveted Maillot Jaune after the gruelling three-week race. However, the champagne will have to be kept on ice a little bit longer as the cycling world’s attention immediately switches to the Olympics, with the men’s Road Race coming in less than a week.
The Brits have enjoyed a truly golden Tour (or perhaps that should be a yellow Tour) with four different stage-winners – all of whom will be part of the Road Race quintet – while British-based Team Sky ruthlessly asserted their controlled and efficient dominance throughout the Tour, highlighted by Christopher Froome making it a 1-2 overall. Froome, runner-up in last year’s Vuelta a España, won Stage 7 and selflessly helped Wiggins to overall glory, even though there were rumours of discontent from within the camp that he was in fact in better condition that Wiggins and that he could have done even better in the mountain stages.
World Champion Mark Cavendish (almost unthinkable not to have mentioned him until now) who is also part of Team Sky, quashed any doubts that he may in poor form heading into the Olympics with arguably one of his best wins ever on Stage 18 (even better than the 2009 Champs-Élysées). He launched himself from over 500m out, rocketing past stunned breakaway-riders Luis León Sánchez and Nicolas Roche to take the spoils, having recovered from a first-week crash and then playing the ‘domestique’ role in the mountains for Wiggins.
David Millar is the only member of the British team not to ride for Sky (Ian Stannard is the fifth rider; he did not participate in the Tour). The former drug cheat hit rock bottom in the mid-2000s but has always faced his problems and won Stage 12, his form again highlighting that Cavendish really is red-hot favourite for Olympic Gold, less than a year after his British team-mates helped him secure the World Championship.
There is no doubt this Tour belonged to Britain but 22-year-old Peter Sagan annihilated his opposition in the Green Jersey competition, won by Cavendish last year, as he delivered on a promising start to the season. Sagan took advantage of a first-week Cavendish crash as well as media-dubbed “Cav-proofing techniques” by the organizers whereby traditional sprint finishes featured a slight ‘kick’ in them - i.e. a slight incline, or even a minor-categorized climb close to the finish - to distance himself from his rivals. He excelled in the mountains too, something ‘Cav’ has never done. Sagan is a worthy winner of the jersey and his rivalry with Cavendish looks set to continue over the next few years.
The future finally looks bright for French cycling, 27 years since Le Marseillaise last rang out in the country’s capital for Bernard Hinault’s fifth Tour win. Thibaut Pinot, 22, won Stage 8 en route to a top-10 overall finish, 25-year-old Pierre Rolland won Stage 11 as he took his second straight top-10 finish, and the promising duo are tipped to battle for the Maillot Jaune over the next decade. However, the man who stole French hearts was once again Rolland’s Team Europcar teammate Thomas Voeckler (my favourite rider). Now 33, Voeckler entered the stage carrying a knee injury ending any hopes he had of bettering his 4th place finish from last year. However, he recovered brilliantly to win Stages 10 and 16, the latter of which was the ‘Queen Stage’: the most difficult stage of thr Tour with several mountain-climbs. Voeckler, who initially stole the show in 2004 when he wore the Maillot Jaune for 10 days against all odds, won the Polka-Dot Jersey for the best mountain-climber.
Cavendish will be red-hot favourite for the Olympic Games, just six days after an unprecedented fourth consecutive Champs-Élysées triumph and with the best team around him. Defending champions Samuel Sánchez misses out through injury but the difference in course profile suggests it would not have been a course for a non-sprinter in any case. Cavendish says he feels fresh, demonstrated by the late pair of stage wins, which bodes well for London. The Manx Missile has unfinished business at the Olympics: in 2008, he quit the Tour early to concentrate on the Games but was the only member of the British track cycling team not to pick up a medal in the Beijing velodrome. Sagan and Fabian Cancellara are also good bets to feature amongst the medals.
Already a three-time Olympic gold-medallist, Wiggins can look to earn a fourth in the Time Trial, having crushed the opposition in the TT Stages 9 and 19. Froome joins him as a medal favourite along with Cancellara and Tony Martin. Cancellara won the opening prologue but left the Tour early to be at his wife’s side as she gave birth so will most probably be fresh (if a little short on sleep!) while Martin is the reigning TT champion.
Wiggins has cemented himself amongst cycling’s all-time greats; with his accolades on the track now matched with a Tour de France - as well as a Paris-Nice, Tour de Romandie and Critérium du Dauphiné all in the same season. Even the French love him. Andy Schleck may have been missing through injury (while brother Frank failed a drugs test during the Tour) and Cadel Evans was a shadow of his 2011 Tour-winning self.
But I have never been happier to have been proved wrong (see 2010 article http://www.redbrickpaper.co.uk/2010/02/skys-the-limit/).