For those of us who have followed the Tour De France since we were small children, this year has been a revelatory experience. Cycling’s popularity has never been greater in the UK. Interest in the sport has exploded. The whole thing has gone mainstream, as evidenced by the placing of the final two stages live on ITV1.
It’s rather sad that it has taken Bradley Wiggins’ victory to achieve that, but the important thing is that we are where we are. This moment is an opportunity, and it’s probably a fleeting one.
More of that in a moment. But first I want to state how pleased I am for Wiggins, Cavendish and the whole British contingent and what they have accomplished. This is a far, far bigger deal than anything that will happen at the Olympics and Wiggins has shown himself in just three weeks that he is Britain’s pre-eminent athlete. And he and his countrymen and team-mates have have done it without being egomaniacs or tossers.
Wiggins has shown himself to be a sportsman, something that Pierre Rolland would do well to reflect on.
There were no crude mind games with their opponents. Lance Armstrong would do well to reflect on that.
Wiggins has shown that to be successful you don’t have to be a heartless, selfish, big-headed wanker. Once again, Lance Armstrong would do well to reflect on that. As could the parade of vain, arrogant, self-serving airheads that form the bulk of Britain’s Olympic gold medal winners.
He has shown himself to be a humble, likable, level-headed, decent guy, with opinions, a temper from time to time (definitely a good thing) and an appreciation of what he has done and the work the people around him have done for him. Unlike many professional sportsmen there is no perpetual PR campaign. He answered the questions he was asked and doesn’t deal in vapid banality. He hasn’t got riled by some of the crude attempts to undermine him and promote the (completely unjustified) claims of his team-mate, Chris Froome (a man I can’t quite make my mind up on).
Cavendish has been superb as always, and has demonstrated beyond doubt that he is the quickest man in the world right now and possibly the quickest ever. I have never seen anyone win like he can, even in the era of routine doping. Plus he seems like a fairly nice chap.
Even David Millar, who I was fairly uncharitable about not so long ago, delivered a commendably impressive and well-deserved stage win. I could have done without the holier-than-thou posturing afterwards though. You’re clean now David. It wasn’t always so.
As I suggested at the top, this could be a watershed moment for British cycling, and I don’t mean that in terms of gold medals or yellow jerseys, or that in garages and hills up and down the land there are people right now pedalling away furiously, thinking they can piss all over Bradley Wiggins. What I mean is the British people’s attitude to the humble bike.
Go and take a look at any mainstream discussion of cycling issues on the web. The hatred is palpable. Britons are by and large addicted to their cars and cyclists are a nuisance or a sub-species, who deserve to be terrorised and tyrannized. Hopefully Wiggins victory will make a few people pause for thought next time they are about to cut a cyclist up.
But more important is that the moment is consciously seized to make cyclists lives easier. Jackie Ashley lays out some of what needs to be done pretty well over at the Guardian. And in many places there has been significant progress. I was in Manchester the other day and it was for the most part terrifically bike friendly in the city centre.
But contrast this with Birmingham, for example, and progress has been painfully slow. The cycle lanes, re-arrangement of the existing road network in favour of the bike and a general commitment to the notion that our transport infrastructure has to cater to more than just the automobile (or more accurately fossil-fuel free transportation) just isn’t there. Partly that’s a reflection of our hidebound and reactionary political culture of our governing class here in the West Midlands. But more importantly it’s a reflection of people’s unwillingness to get out of their cars and make an effort, however small, to live their lives slightly differently.
If Wiggins’ victory acts as a catalyst to make people re-assess their relationship with their cars then he will have achieved so much more than being the first Brit on the top step of the podium in Paris. I remain hopeful.