Today Bradley Wiggins won the 2012 Tour de France as the leader of a UK-based, Pro Tour cycling team. A British rider, Chris Froome, was second and Brits won seven stages (including three for Mark Cavendish). This is an astounding achievement.
I wish my dad was here to see it. He put me on a bike in 1973 – the Merckx years. We both rode, in a different era, for Wiggins’ first club – the Archer Road Club.
We would follow the Tour any way we could, even buying the Daily Telegraph to read Phil Ligget’s daily reports – the only way to get information within 24 hours. Dad would have been overjoyed to see a British rider leading a British team to victory.
In 1980 I went on a coach package trip to France to see the finale of the Tour. Joop Zoetemelk won the race for the ‘British’ TI-Raleigh1 team and Irishman Sean Kelly was winning stages. Two British riders started: Paul Sherwen packed before the end but newcomer Graham Jones showed well before dropping back in the last week. He was there at the end for us to cheer on the Champs though.
We thought that was a pretty good Tour for the Brits. The relative glory years of Tommy Simpson, Brian Robinson, Barry Hoban and Michael Wright were behind us but a new generation of riders were heading out to France and earning pro contracts2.
In the next few years Scot Robert Millar would light up the mountain stages (and win the Polka Dot Jersey), Sean Yates, Chris Boardman and David Millar would emulate Simpson and wear the yellow jersey.
I think that we thought that was about as good as it was possible to get. The ANC-Halfords 1987 Tour team had shown that the idea of a UK team competing at this level was unrealistic. The Irish, Americans and Australians, untrammelled by self-doubt, reinvented themselves as global cycling contenders while the Brits soldiered on bravely.
There are a lot of well-informed and well-written newspaper articles around today (which, in itself, is an amazing change) that analyse what has changed since 1992, when Chris Boardman won Gold at the Barcelona Olympics. I have no great insights to add.
I am just going to enjoy this amazing day. And raise a glass to my dad. Thanks, Brad and the team.
1 The sponsors were British but none of the Tour squad were. The manager, Peter Post, had a low opinion of British riders.
2 William Fotheringham’s book Roule Britannia is a great history of Brits competing in the Tour.