Bradley Wiggins may have just done the best ride ever by a British cyclist.
Fourth place in just his third Tour de France is an achievement equal to Chris Hoy’s at the Olympics last year, what Mark Cavendish has done this year, and arguably better than Robert Millar’s fourth in 1984.
It’s impossible to compare Wiggins’ and Millar’s rides like for like, but it is possible to compare them. First let’s look at the time gaps. Millar was 14-42 minutes down on winner Laurent Fignon in ‘84 and was arguably never in contention. All being well tomorrow, Wiggins will finish this year’s Tour just 6-01 minutes down on Alberto Contador, and has been within a few minutes of the race lead throughout the three weeks.
But going on time alone is, I admit, a bit misleading. The Tour was a totally different beast back then as the racing was far less controlled by the strong teams. Large time gaps could open one day only to be overhauled the next.
Millar did win a stage to Guzet Neige in 1984 and win the polka dot jersey competition, which for many could put his ride that year above Wiggins’.
But if you look at Franco Pellizotti’s King of the Mountains win this year you can see how it’s not always such an achievement. Good; yes. Outstanding; not necessarily.
The key is to look at the quality of the respective fields, and I think this is where Wiggins just edges back in front.
True, 1984 had a very strong top five with four of the biggest names of that generation surrounding Millar in the results, but this year was perhaps the strongest grand tour field assembled in years.
Take a look at who Wiggins was up against. First of all Alberto Contador; undoubtedly the greatest stage race rider alive at the moment. The Spaniard has now won two Tours de France, a Giro d’Italia and a Vuelta a Espana. He is as close to unbeatable as it’s possible to get right now.
Then you have Andy Schleck. The Luxembourg champ is a precociously talented climber who is set to win several grand tours himself.
In third place is Lance Armstrong. A seven time winner of the Tour, patron of the peloton in his day, and still one of the most feared/respected riders around. Watching Wiggins go mano-a-mano with him in the mountains was exhilarating.
Below Wiggins is Frank Schleck and Andreas Klöden. Frank may not have the talent of his brother, but to beat him is no mean feat. Then Klöden. What can you say about Klöden? The German has been named in a high-ranking investigation as someone who used the blood-doping services at Freiburg university.
He has so far brushed it off, but the situation is unlikely to go away so easily. Whatever you think of him, Wiggins still had to beat him.
Elsewhere in the field was Carlos Sastre, Denis Menchov, Oscar Pereiro, Cadel Evans, and a host of other riders who have featured and / or won major races in the last two or three years.
We must also put Wiggins’ ride in to context. The Briton has essentially trained for this in just the last nine months; transforming himself from the best track rider in the world to one of the best road riders in the world. It is an incredible achievement.
Millar was always a grand tour rider. That’s what he did, and it’s undeniable that his Tour de France pedigree is greater than Wiggins’, but for Bradley to finish in fourth at his first (proper) attempt, riding against the people he was is simply incredible and makes you wonder what he could do next year.
Tour de France 1984 result
1. L Fignon
2. B Hinault
3. G LeMond
7. P Simon
8. P Munoz
9. C Criquielion
10. P Anderson
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