_WORDS: Tom Staniford_
_PHOTOS: Scott Mitchell, Bryn Lennon, Odd Andersen/AFP/GettyImages_
After an increasingly pressurised build-up, at last it arrived: Wiggo Wednesday. Tension had ratcheted as Team GB failed to secure their first gold after inflexible tactics and a lack of cooperation from other teams denied Mark Cavendish in Saturday’s hyped-up road race. With the expectant hopes of a nation resting on his lithe shoulders, one would expect the sideburned-one to be understandably stressed. However, all indications suggested that Wiggins was settling down for another round of what he does best, and has done best all season.
Two crushing victories in both of the Time Trials at the Tour de France provided ample confirmation that ‘Big Wig’ was certainly on form. His teammate and right-hand man, Chris Froome, was also an omnipresent fixture, taking 2nd place in both TTs behind Wiggo. A no-brainer then for Performance Director David Brailsford in selecting these two superlative riders to participate in the Olympic Time Trial for Great Britain.
Fresh from Team Sky’s domination of the Tour de France the two Brits were undoubtedly champing at the bit to make their mark at London 2012, the 30th edition of the Modern Games. What did remain to be seen, however, would be how they fared against the opposition.
Prior to the event, major rival Fabian Cancellara had been coming into some form at just the right time. Whilst he may not have assimilated as much training stress as others during the Tour (he quit the race early to return to his wife’s side for the birth of their child), ‘Spartacus’ was certainly beginning to regain his effervescence against the clock. This was confirmed when only an unusual lapse of concentration in Richmond Park denied him a podium place in the Olympic Road Race.
The other recurring actor of the international TT cast, Tony Martin, had an equally lacklustre lead-in to London. A fairly lukewarm start to the season (for him, at least) seemed to play down the expectations held by many for the current World TT Champion, and a broken wrist put paid to any hopes of him steamrolling the Tour de France opposition in typical Panzerwagen fashion. Broken wrists, whilst a problem for standing starts, sprinting and handling, do not really necessitate an automatic curtailing of training for time trials – especially in this era of electronic shifting and turbo trainers. This fact was borne out by his impressive silver medal, losing out only to the imperious Mod.
Beforehand, one questioned whether Wiggins had perhaps dug too deep in the Olympic Road Race in service of his close friend and teammate Cavendish. Rumour has it that after a particularly sadistic self-flogging on the front for several miles trying to catch the break, Wiggins blew his stack and retreated to the back of the bunch, only to reappear after a few minutes of respite to put another solid turn in for his friend. And Froome? He bailed out of the race some miles earlier – possibly with one eye on his TT performance a few days later. Would Wiggo’s enthusiasm in the road race hinder his chances in the TT? Or was it just an indication of astonishing, crushing form, the sort of breath-taking wattage seen in the lead-out over the final kilometre on the Champs Elysées just over a week ago.
Mr. Wiggins is one of the finest TT animals ever and on a home course which suited him, just a few miles away from where he first took up the sport, it’s clear that he was in his element. First the golden fleece and now, the golden medal.
So what next? With the overwhelming media coverage that has already been offered to the first British winner of the Tour de France, and only the second gold medal for Britain in an Olympic Games which has started in quite a muted fashion for British victories, it would certainly appear the ‘Cult of Wiggo’ is in the ascendant. One assumes that, for Britain’s most medalled Olympian and an icon at the very forefront of British cycling, a knighthood is in the post.
With a British yellow jersey, a British Road Race World Champion, a British Olympic Gold medallist, we appear to be ushering in a genuine ‘Brit-zeit’ in World Cycling.