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Comment: Whatever happens now, cycling in the UK will always be indebted to Sir Bradley Wiggins

Jack Elton-Walters
12 Mar 2018

Clouds are gathering over Bradley Wiggins, but cycling in the UK will always owe him for its growth since 2012

For some time now, questions have been piling up about the practices of Team Sky with regards to the career and victories of Sir Bradley Wiggins. Ever since the story about the infamous jiffy bag was first broken by Matt Lawton of the Daily Mail back in September 2016 the saga has rumbled on with no end in sight.

Since then, there have been questions, rumours, denials, corrections and Parliamentary hearings. Despite all that, and claims from Team Sky boss Sir Dave Brailsford about the package's contents - he says it was the decongestant Fluimicil - in truth we are little the wiser and most people are far from satisfied.

The news bubbled back to the surface recently, making the front covers of a number of national newspapers and getting plenty of airtime on the BBC.

This time it was because a report from the Department of Culture, Media and Sport select committee stated that Team Sky had 'crossed the ethical line' with its use of Therapeutic Use Exemptions (TUEs) for Wiggins.

With all the focus on Sir Bradley, much less attention was paid by the nationals and the BBC to the report's citing of an injection given to Sir Mo Farah, which the report says must now be investigated by the General Medical Council, or to the fact that Lord Coe is said to have given 'misleading' answers to questions by parliament about when he first found out about corruption and doping allegations in athletics.

Back to Wiggins, his woes have now been added to by allegations that he used an investment scheme as a way of avoiding taxation.

The golden yellow days of 2012

That's the corner into which Britain's most decorated Olympian now finds himself backed.

However, it seems like only last summer (rather than nearly six years ago) that a much leaner Wiggins dominated the road cycling season, won the Tour de France and backed it up with time-trial gold at the London 2012 Olympics.

He ended that year with the Sports Personality of the Year award and a knighthood. A career summit that looks further away by the day.

Outside of the bubble of those who already loved the sport of cycling, there was some knowledge of British riders such as Mark Cavendish, and other sports fans will have had a passing knowledge of Wiggins thanks to his Olympic performances.

But in the summer of 2012 Wiggo Mania took hold. Tabloid newspapers offered cut-out sideburns so we could all look like the Mod from Kilburn, Paul Weller invited him on stage to play guitar.

On the bike, Wiggins had one of the best seasons of any rider for years. He won Paris-Nice, the Tour de Romandie and the Criterium du Dauphine before entering the Tour de France as out-and-out favourite.

He sat second from the Prologue until the end of Stage 7 (won by Chris Froome), when he moved into the overall lead and never relinquished the yellow jersey.

His relationship with Froome during the latter part of that race is another story and has been told plenty of times, but regardless of ifs and buts over whether Froome could have gained enough time in the mountains to win overall had he been given a free rein, Wiggins's time-trialling ensured he was on the top step of the podium in Paris.

On that podium, he winced at an ear-splitting rendition of the British National Anthem before giving an amusing winner's speech, during which he turned his back on the gathered dignitaries and addressed the 'real fans'.

Having won the Tour on Sunday 22nd July, Wiggins took the start line in the Olympic Games Road Race on Saturday 28th in the hope of guiding Cavendish to gold.

It wasn't to be, but two days after that the Tour winner was untouchable as he crossed the line at Hampton Court Palace to take the time-trial win.

Wiggins was now a national treasure, a mainstream name and had transcended cycling into British popular culture in a way hardly seen before.

Team Sky set out to win the Tour de France and with Wiggins had done so in just three seasons, much sooner than expected.

Launched as the squeaky clean team that did things differently, the marginal gains approach had been shown to work, although it is just that approach that is now under scrutiny.

Wiggo Mania takes hold

The idea of a British rider winning the Tour de France on a British team would have been dismissed as nonsense just a few years before. But Wiggins had done it and then taken Olympic gold in his home city.

The people loved the way he rode and loved the personality he brought to interviews and appearances off the bike.

On the roads the impact of Wiggins's 2012 season was quickly evident as more and more people – namely the archetypal MAMILs – were out in force. But so too were younger men, children and increasing numbers of women cyclists.

Cyclist in its print form (this website followed later) was launched in September 2012 as enthusiasm for road cycling continued.

It should be noted that, outside of a few of London's roads with usable infrastructure, cycling as transport has barely if at all increased as a modal share. But as a weekend hobby, the growth is clear to see.

A star fades

After 2012, Wiggins's career started to wind down as selection errors by Brailsford (think 2014 Tour de France), internal rivalries with Froome, illness during races and seemingly a reduction in motivation all played their part.

Even so, the trend he'd awakened had taken on a life of its own. Without the performances of that golden yellow summer in 2012 would cycling in the UK be what it is today? I think not.

Some credit should go to the likes of Chris Boardman, Cavendish and later even Froome.

But none, certainly the third of that list, has the same showmanship or personality that encapsulated Wiggins in his heyday. His swagger, although verging on arrogance at times, was welcomed and celebrated by existing fans and those new to cycling alike.

But now where are we? Well, whatever comes of the jiffy bag saga and the Parliamentary criticism so far as Sir Bradley is concerned, no one will mothball their bike and send back their club membership as a result of a negative outcome.

People may protest a disillusion with pro cycling, they may even miss a few episodes of Tour de France highlights; but give up actual cycling on their own bike out in the green and pleasant land of lanes and cafe stops? It seems unlikely.

If our hero falls, his personal legacy will be in ruins, but the wider legacy of a growth of cycling in the United Kingdom, for which Wiggins can rightly take credit, will roll on as those who have discovered the joy of cycling stick with it and encourage more people to try it.

For that we have to say, thanks Brad.