- ESPN Sports Personality - No. 4
Wiggo - Burning up the road
The past 12 months have thrown up a catalogue of memorable performances, including golden Olympic moments, acts of golfing greatness and more than the odd piece of heroism on a bike. Leading up to Christmas, ESPN will name its top 10 sports personalities of the year in ascending order...
The transition from track to road cycling is not always smooth and it took Bradley Wiggins, simply Wiggo to his mates and now the public, some time to stamp himself as a serious grand tour rider, but in 2012 he proved without any doubt that he belongs in the top bracket of road riders.
A stellar year saw him become the first Briton to win the Tour de France, which he followed up a couple of weeks later with a gold medal in the time trial at the Olympic Games. In a year where cycling has been put through the mill with the fallout from the Lance Armstrong affair, Wiggins put the sport on the front and back pages for the right reasons and it was a truly remarkable effort, as two years ago he blew out spectacularly in the Tour and 12 months ago he suffered a broken collarbone.
Despite the setbacks of previous years, Wiggins was convinced he had it in him to win a Tour de France and his belief was reaffirmed when he saw the profile of the 2012 race. It was a route that played to Wiggins' strengths, as it was not as punishing in terms of mountain stages and contained two individual time trials.
The plan was hatched to get Wiggins to the line in Liege in peak form and he set about laying down a marker with wins in the Paris-Nice, Tour de Romandie and Criterium du Dauphine. His form in the lead up to the Tour certainly filled Wiggins with confidence.
"This is probably the best shape I've ever been in to win the Tour," he said after picking up the winner's trophy at the Dauphine. "My time trialling's improved, my climbing's improved, my team's really strong and they've improved and I'm ready to go."
Wiggo's 2012 roll of honour
- Won Paris-Nice
Won Tour de Romandie
Won Criterium du Dauphine
Won Tour de France
Won Olympic time trial gold
Named Velo rider or year
Named BBC Sports Personality of Year
What will also have filled Wiggins with confidence was the absence of Alberto Contador, due to suspension, and Andy Schleck on account of injury, and he went into the race as the bookmakers' favourite. Being the man to beat brings its own pressures, but Wiggins and his team controlled the race quite superbly from the off.
He claimed second place in the prologue, behind Fabien Cancellara, and took the yellow jersey on stage seven. He cemented his race lead with a dominant victory in stage nine's time trial, but came under huge pressure on stage 11. The route from Albertville to La Toussuire saw Wiggins' mettle in the mountains truly tested, as his main rivals for the overall win went on the attack. The Sky rider's team-mate Chris Froome helped pull back the attackers and then he raised eyebrows when shooting off the front and dropping Wiggins. Frantic calls on the radio eventually saw Froome ease up and wait, but it raised doubts about whether Wiggins was the strongest rider.
Sky put on a united front for the remainder of the Tour, Froome playing the support role despite seemingly having the stronger legs in the mountains, and victory was effectively secured when the pair fended off attacks from Vincenzo Nibali in stage 16 and Wiggins claimed the win in stage 19's time trial.
With a lead of three minutes, 21 seconds, Wiggins was able to savour the customary glass of champagne during the final stage. But to prove his commitment to the cause, he did his turn on the front of the group on the run round Paris to deliver Mark Cavendish for a fourth success on the Champs-Elysees.
"It's been a magical couple of weeks for the team and for British cycling," Wiggins said. "Some dreams come true. My mother over there, she's now - her son has won the Tour de France."
In doing what 58 others before him had failed to, he became the first Brit to win the Tour. It was richly deserved, but he also won it with style and in stage 14 he won over the tough French media with a terrific display of sportsmanship. Nails had been sprinkled on the road, which caused one of Wiggins' big rivals - defending champion Cadel Evans - to puncture. He lost a lot of time waiting for his wheel change and when word got to Wiggins, he moved to the front of the race and slowed the pace to allow Evans to get back with the group.
"I thought it was the honourable thing to do, nobody should ever profit by somebody's misfortune like that," Wiggins said. "It became quite apparent very quickly when all of the guys started puncturing at once. It wasn't just one or two, it all started happening and was becoming dangerous."
His gesture certainly drew praise from the French media, who dubbed Wiggins 'Le Gentleman' for his actions.
Less than a week after the Tour, Wiggins was in the spotlight again as he was asked to ring the bell at the opening ceremony of the Olympics. The London Games started in disappointing fashion, as the road race team failed in their mission to deliver Cavendish to gold. But Wiggins put collective disappointment behind him to produce a ride of complete dominance to take time trial gold by a blistering 42 seconds from Tony Martin. It was his seventh Olympic medal and saw him become the most decorated British Olympian (which was later matched by Sir Chris Hoy).
The sight of Wiggins, perched on a throne flashing the Victory Vs only served to reinforce his status as the people's champion. His trademark sideburns were adopted by the public, while his handling of the media and razzmatazz that followed only served to add to his popularity. Wiggins admitted to getting a little carried away with the celebrity, but was brought down to earth with a thud when knocked off his bike on a training ride. He claims the pain of a couple of broken ribs prompted him to take stock and get back into the thick of his training regime.
The awards kept coming, though, with Wiggins being named rider of the year by Velo magazine and 2012 was topped off by him being crowned BBC Sports Personality of the Year.