Could there be any doubt about the winner of Cycling Weekly’s British Rider of the Year?
Bradley Wiggins made history by becoming the first British rider to conquer the Tour de France. Until July it remained one of the few truly great sporting events yet to be won by a British athlete. No matter what happens in years to come, Wiggins will always be the first British Tour champion.
Looking back now, taking in all the highs of British cycling’s most successful ever year, it’s easy to underestimate Wiggins’s achievement. After all, the way he plotted his way to July with one victory after another, and the clinical precision with which Sky secured a stranglehold on the race, makes it seem like it was in the bag from about March onwards.
A number of factors helped, of course. The Tour featured two long time trials and the passage through the Alps and Pyrenees was not as severe as in recent years. Alberto Contador’s absence didn’t hurt either.
To suggest it was an ‘easy’ Tour win is ludicrous. There is no such thing. But it was brilliantly controlled, even if the downside to such control was that the race lacked a true competitive edge.
Wiggins’s most dangerous rival was Chris Froome, a team-mate, and the scale of that threat was largely exaggerated by a wishful-thinking media keen for some intrigue.
Wiggins dominated the road racing year. He won four major UCI WorldTour stage races and an Olympic gold medal. By any standard that makes for an extraordinary season.
While the Tour de France was fairly predictable from the moment he seized the yellow jersey in the Alps, Wiggins still had the capacity to surprise. He is a chameleon of a character, often saying what he thinks will suit his audience at any given time, sometimes being provocative simply to spark a reaction.
The accusations of doping that dog any and every leading performer in road cycling, most of them made on Twitter, brought his anger to the fore. He reacted to a question about “doubters on Twitter” at Porrentruy, swearing and walking out of the press conference.
Later in the race he dealt with the question again, although never entirely comfortably. It looked, at times, as if he was not enjoying the whole experience. Attacked on Twitter, attacked by his team-mate, dogged by questions in the press conferences.
But at the end of the race, in Chartres, when he sat before the press and spoke eloquently and at length, the stress seemed to ebb away.
“I think the Tour is a lot more human now,” he said. “If people want to see incredible 220-kilometre lone breaks in the mountains, well maybe that’s not realistic any more, as wonderful and magical as they were to watch. I remember in the Nineties watching people like [Richard] Virenque, but maybe the sport’s changed now.”
Wiggins admitted he enjoyed the Olympic experience more than the Tour. It was the cherry on top of the icing. Four years ago, when he said he doubted he’d race the track at the Olympics again, few could have foreseen the transformation.
In 2012, Wiggins became one of the all-time greats of British sport.
Wiggins’s incredible year
3rd overall Volta ao Algarve plus one stage win
1st overall Paris-Nice, plus one stage win
DNF Tour of Catalonia
1st overall Tour of Romandy, plus two stage wins
1st overall Critérium du Dauphiné, plus one stage win
1st overall Tour de France, plus two stage wins
103rd Olympic road race
1st Olympic time trial
DNF Tour of Britain
DNF World Championships road race
Wiggins’s six best days in 2012
March 11 Winning on Col d’Eze
Although he was already leading Paris-Nice, Wiggins could not take overall victory for granted. The Dutch rider Lieuwe Westra, a decent time triallist, was lurking.
On the famous Col d’Eze in Nice
– a battleground made famous by Sean Kelly and Stephen Roche in the 1980s – Wiggins did just enough, beating Westra by two seconds to win overall by eight.
April 25 Mark Cavendish eat your heart out
The opening road stage of the Tour of Romandy was destined to end in a sprint finish. Sky had Geraint Thomas in the leader’s jersey. So who was it, powering out of the bunch at the end of the 184-kilometre stage? That’s right, renowned sprinter Bradley Wiggins. Admittedly, it was a fairly unorthodox style but as they say, there’s no room for comments on the results sheet.
June 7 Wiggins almost catches Evans for two minutes
Wiggins sealed his second consecutive Critérium du Dauphiné title in the 53-kilometre time trial at Bourg en Bresse. In the closing kilometres he was bearing down on defending Tour champion Cadel Evans, who had set off two minutes before him. It was a huge boost to his morale before the Tour started.
July 7 In yellow for the first time
Sky’s battle plan worked perfectly on the climb to La Planche des Belles Filles. Wiggins cruised up the climb, Froome won the stage and Wiggins became only the fifth British rider to pull on the maillot jaune. He’s also the second – after David Millar – to lead all three Grand Tours.
July 21 Job done
After a stressful final week, the attacks from within, the moments of self-doubt, Wiggins delivered the crushing blow, beating Froome by 1-16 in the final time trial from Bonneval
August 1 Olympic champion again
Four years ago, Wiggins won two gold medals on the track. This summer, he scorched round the road time trial course, cheered by a huge crowd every inch of the way.
British Riders of 2012
Number 1 – Bradley Wiggins
Number 2 – Laura Trott
Number 3 – Sir Chris Hoy
Numbers 6-4 – Jonathan Tiernan-Locke, Jason Kenny and Chris Froome
Numbers 10-7 – Sarah Storey, Ed Clancy, Mark Cavendish, Victoria Pendleton
Numbers 12-11 – Lizzie Armitstead and Geraint Thomas
Numbers 14-13 – Joanna Rowsell and Dani King
Numbers 16-15 – Philip Hindes and Elinor Barker
Numbers 18-17 – Steven Burke and Peter Kennaugh
Numbers 20-19 – David Millar and Lucy Garner
Numbers 22-12 – Steve Cummings and Ben Swift
Numbers 24-23 – Ian Stannard and Helen Wyman
Numbers 26-25 – Annie Last and Scott Thwaites
Numbers 28-27 – Mark Colbourne and Alex Dowsett
Numbers 32-29 – Sharon Laws, Liam Killeen, Neil Fachie, Rachel Atherton
Number 33 – David Stone
Number 34 – Emma Pooley
Numbers 36-35 – Nikki Harris and Russell Downing
Numbers 38-37 – Anthony Kappes and Andy Fenn
Numbers 40-39 – Josh Edmondson and Matt Bottrill
Numbers 42-41 – Luke Rowe and Michael Hutchinson
Numbers 44-43 – Sam Lowe and Jon Dibben
Numbers 46-45 – Rebecca James and Jessica Varnish
Numbers 50-47 – Alex Peters, Kristian House, Richard Handley and Wendy Houvenaghel