Paris: There was no time, nor inclination, for the traditionally wistful, ceremonial Sunday afternoon pedal into Paris for Bradley Wiggins. For half an hour, he smilingly took the backslaps from all the warriors he had ridden into the ground over the previous 2,172 miles and then determined to deliver one final, crushing message to them about why he is a great, historic and worthy first British champion of the Tour de France.
Even before Wiggins sped down the Avenue des Champs-Elysees into one of the most glorious fairytales in a century of British sport, setting up his teammate Mark Cavendish to take a fourth consecutive sprint triumph on the final stage, our first Tour champion had eschewed the traditional drink in the saddle.
Hiding his joy beneath those shades and yellow helmet, he was already not just plotting Cavendish’s moment in the sun, and a seventh British stage win, but also thinking beyond that to his next amazing trick. Because from the moment in Chartres on Saturday when the 32 year-old had thrust forward out of the saddle and punched the air like Superman, realising that he had won the final time trial and thus sealed his historic triumph, his restless mind was already shifting towards an Olympic tour de force a week on Wednesday, a victory which would see him surpass Sir Steve Redgrave as the most bemedalled British Olympian in history.
First, however, was this glorious, unforgettable summer’s day in Paris.
Yes, said Wiggins, it was “goose pimple time”, a joyous afternoon to live all those dreams he had harboured as a bike-mad Mod pedalling around a council estate in Kilburn. He remembered the day he had come here as a 13-year-old with his mum on the Eurostar and he had stood on the very spot where thousands were now cheering him on Paris’s most famous thoroughfare.
No, he thought back then, dreams like this would never come true. Yet, now he had discovered the impossible could materialise as he played the part of a working-class hero in yellow, a champion playing a high speed domestique leading the Sky sprint train into the final 400 metres and punching the air amid the peloton as he moved aside and watched Cavendish complete a wholly surreal and utterly glorious Tour for Britain.
But after becoming the first Englishman to achieve the ultimate on French soil after 99 years of Tour history, there was still no time for Wiggins to relax.
For a couple of hours after bathing in triumph in front of the Arc de Triomphe, he was already being flown back to Britain where today he was planning a lonely ride around the Lancashire hills near his Chorley home. “I’ll just go on my usual loops and it will be nice to ride along with a bit of peace and quiet, enjoying riding the bike without all these bloody idiots on motorbikes taking photos of you!” he laughed.
It would be, said Wiggins, the start of the next stage of his preparation for London, where on Saturday he promises to ride his heart out in the road race to give his Sky teammate Cavendish the best possible chance to deliver Britain’s first gold of the Games.
Then after three days rest, he said, he would be looking forward to triumphing in the time trial, for his fourth Olympic gold and his seventh medal in total — he currently holds the record of six with rower Redgrave — with his ambition perfectly heightened by his success on Saturday. “If I’m 100 per cent honest, it’s gold or nothing in London now,” said Wiggins. “That’s the way I’m treating the next nine days. I’ve set a precedent now for performances. I can’t sit and say I’ll be happy with a silver or bronze. It’s got to be gold now. And that’s why I’ll be out on the bike first thing tomorrow morning.”
Here is one driven man.
Wiggins has appreciated the sacrifices of Cavendish for the past three weeks, recognising how a cycling megastar has effectively been acting as a lowly water carrier for him for much of the Tour.
Now, just as yesterday, he is ready to again give everything to set up his colleague for a golden sprint down the Mall on Saturday and, even though it would seem unthinkable even to other top Olympic athletes that Wiggins could possibly be anywhere near his best after three weeks of hell in the French mountains, he assures us he will be in the shape of his life to both create one gold for Cav and seal another for himself.
“It shouldn’t be a problem,” he said, asked about whether he could find both the full gas for the road race and the time trial. “I’ve just done a world-class time trial, averaging a ridiculous amount of power even though we’ve just had three weeks of bike racing and two really tough Pyrenees stages. If anything, I’m going to be fresher.
“I’ve already started thinking about the Olympics. Saturday’s performance in the time trial alone, the way I was feeling, the numbers I was producing, I was already thinking it’s realistic to think I can win the time trial now.”
Gold on top of yellow?
Wiggins sounded like a man still in a state of shock.
“It’s difficult to know what to feel. The thing that’s struck me most is just what my win means to other people around me. Like the Sky photographer breaking down in my room and my mechanic being in tears. You just think everyone else around me is living it too.”
Dave Brailsford, Sky’s team principal, had noted how the form of last year’s winner, Australian Cadel Evans, had dipped dramatically after achieving the ultimate prize but he reckoned Wiggins’s extraordinary drive would keep pushing him onwards and upwards.
Why? Because Wiggins is simply besotted with his sport.
“Next year, I don’t want all this to go t-- up, so I need to keep going. I’ve got a couple more years and I want to keep this momentum going.”
But as he stood against the iconic backdrop of the Arc, with beautiful Paris in the palm of his hands, surely London could not top this?
“Gold?” said Wiggins. “Coming off the back of this, it will add the hundreds and thousands on the cake. As it stands, the icing is on it. We’ve just got to put the little cherry on the top.”