Bradley Wiggins and Team Sky dominated the 2012 Tour de France for the best part of three weeks, snuffing out any serious attacks and eventually landing the maillot jaune on British shoulders for the first time in the Tour’s 99 outings. It was a supreme, inspiring, glorious achievement. A few days later Wiggo stormed to victory in the Olympic time trial.
Wiggo’s gold was one of many for Team GB’s cyclists but it was his Tour de France victory that was the most historic.
Within seconds of his podium appearance on the Champs Elysées, cycle advocates were asking whether Wiggo could be the pedalling messiah, here to deliver us to the Promised Land, a future not of milk and honey, or lambs lying down with lions, but of segregated cycle paths and motorists happy to have cyclists taking up ‘primary position’ on the roadspace in front of them.
This an awful lot to expect from a whippet-thin lad from Kilburn. The BBC said he had a heart like a bucket but that was a reference to his engorged ventricles not his propensity for fighting the good fight on behalf of Britain’s commuter cyclists.
Bike shops, too, are expecting an awful lot to cascade down from a Wiggins win, and from the success of British cyclists at the Olympics. They are on slightly safer ground than the cycle advocates. Lance Armstrong’s seven Tour de France victories may now be taken off him but, during his long reign, his effect on bikes sales was undeniable. Australia also experienced a one year fillip thanks to last year’s Tour de France victory by Cadel Evans. Success definitely breeds success, and Team Sky’s belief that it – and the joined-at-the-hip British Cycling – can be the Manchester United or Barcelona of cycling bodes well for UK cycle sport. There’s gonna be a lot of wannabe Wiggins in our future, and they’re gonna need bikes to train, race and dream on.
The ‘Bradley Wiggins effect’ – or, more accurately, the ‘Hoy-Cavendish-Wiggins-Pendleton-Trott-etc-etc effect’ – will definitely have a long term impact on cycle racing in the UK. It’s already had that impact: just look at the number of young riders coming through the track ranks from the British Cycling star factory. How far will this effect reach? In a BBC radio show interview following the Tour de France the host started his interview by telling me he had been inspired by Wiggins to start cycling, digging his dusty bike out of the garage. He complained about bum pain and asked how to alleviate this ("ride more," I said) but said he had enjoyed the pootle so much he was going out again at the weekend, this time with his young son.
British sporting success at Le Tour, and at the Olympics, will definitely stimulate cycle usage. But there are many other factors at play, too. The weather, urban congestion, fuel prices, health fears, tree hugging, and others. Cycle use is steadily growing in the UK and it’s not just because of our Lycra-clad superstars. It’s a perfect storm of interlinked yet disparate factors that bode well for the bike trade’s future.
The queen sent a congratulatory message to Bradley Wiggins after he won Le Tour; Rupert Murdoch tweeted incessantly about Team Sky’s star cyclists; Olympic cycling victories were front page news, and cycling is now mainstream, on the radar at last.
This needs to be translated into cash-on-the-ground. Government department’s need to wake up to the positives possible with cycling and start to invest real money in infrastructure and in promotion. The Departments of Health and Transport and Culture/sport, and the Treasury, could win big if they backed cycling.