Earning It

Bradley Wiggins is Tour de France champion. Let that echo for a minute, as if from a carnival loudspeaker. Let it doppler out to the outer reaches of the crowd and then come rippling back in whispers and muted applause, building to a crescendo. Let Wiggins have his moment.

Because he earned it.

Even when winning the Tour de France appears easy, a branded group ride with prize caravan and soigneurs in tow. Even with your team sitting on the front day-after-day, your rivals cowed into submission, a couple of monster time trials sealing the deal, winning the Tour de France is not easy.

First of all, it is hard to ride on the front for three weeks, even in the slipstream of an able teammate. The simple concentration necessary to hold the wheel for hours on end, staying out of trouble, always being in the right place, makes the winner worthy. It is a Chinese water torture of a task. To succeed you must not crack.

There is a tremendous amount of calculation that goes into grand tour strategy. It is one thing to say, we will ride conservatively, cover attacks and then let Bradley win the time trials, but Bradley has still got to win the time trials. Timing the effort and then producing it is a feat beyond imagining, and this too makes the winner worthy.

When the road turns up, things get unpredictable quickly (including the disposition of certain climbing domestiques). When you are a diesel engine, like Wiggins, and the stop/start of sudden attacks doesn’t suit your style, you’ve still got to hold your nerve. The man who can watch Cadel Evans go up the road, bridging to a teammate, and slowly grind out the gap deserves to win the Tour de France. It is a bluff with no aces in the blind, unless there are aces, but who knows? That is the nature of the bluff. That is the power of it.

Every day the yellow jersey performs the ceremony with podium girls and flowers, kisses on cheeks, autographing one hundred versions of the same shirt for sponsors and charities and posterity, submitting to interviews and drug tests. This is a labor on top of the labor, both physically and mentally draining. The longer you hold the jersey, the more of this you must do. Any man who can wear the jersey, perform its duties and ride into Paris still in yellow deserves to win the Tour de France.

That Wiggins had the temerity to lead teammate Mark Cavendish out for the final, winning sprint was a display of pure class. It is necessary to have class to claim the jersey.

There is more, though. First, he was a champion on the track. He rode right to the pinnacle of that discipline and had the audacity to think there was something more. Then, he remade his body in the image of a grand tour champion, beginning with that track racer’s power and then stripping away kilograms of weight and muscle to build an entirely new kind of machine.

There is finishing fourth, just off the podium, and learning that not only has the change worked, but the podium is a possibility. But then there’s still so much more. More work and more calculation, an early season of stellar form, holding, holding, holding that form for the big moment, and then executing, pulling it off and standing there while people tell you it was boring.

A true champion will always bear insults.

This Tour win was not boring, but neither did it happen in a flash. It is not easily digestible in highlight reel or in the nut graph of a newspaper story in French. It’s an epic poem in a stilted meter, a wandering tale like the Odyssey or the Aeniad, with contrived beasts and long stretches where not much transpires, but make no mistake, it is not boring.

No. Bradley Wiggins is Tour de France champion. He earned it. For the sake of the man and the sake of the sport, let’s let him enjoy it.

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  1. Anthony

    I’ll respectfully disagree, I really think the GC race this year was boring. It seemed a foregone conclusion way to early on and Wiggins and his teammates deserve full credit for that. They rode a perfect race and made it pretty clear that nobody was taking that jersey away. A well and hard earned victory but I do feel it was lacking in any drama or excitement.

    It was still a wonderful tour though. Lots of daily excitement in the stages, good tactics, interesting stories on the road and breakaways that seemed to always be a threat to stay away.

  2. LD

    i would agree too that it was boring……. but thats not Wiggins fault…… or responsibility. Although my butt would thoroughly get a kicking even from the lanterne rouge i feel it was relatively easy for Wiggins and Froome in terms of high level competition. Evans was never at his best all year. Nibali seems to lack a certain something everyone suffers from until they have tasted victory on a regular basis and Froome had a short leash this year. Contador and Schleck weren’t there (although the latter did well to not be able to participate). This year though did signal change for future potential winners and the old guard showed they have seen one too many sunsets. Wiggins though was pure class throughout the race. And a great touch to lead out Cav on the way to another victory………….. however, I’m kinda waiting for the other shoe to drop.

  3. Col

    All the teams and riders are there to win a race. They don’t sit around and plan how to make the next stage exciting for the TV audience. Sky did what they had to to get the job done.

    As for it being boring? Sky could have cracked & the race could have blown apart at any stage. Even the thought that Sky’s efforts to control the race might backfire on them was exciting enough for me.. plus everything else that might have brought Wiggo undone – alliances, long range attacks up the road, crashes, bad weather, descents. It certainly wasn’t a foregone conclusion that he’d win in my mind, he always had to get to Paris.

    I thought it was a great Tour and one that will be talked about for a long time to come.

  4. Rich Weinhofer

    Absolutely not boring. I have not seen a team perform with as much singular focus and precision since the days of US Postal. If you want “excitement” go watch LeBron dunk a basketball – again. The TDF is a chess game that Wiggans and team played to perfection. Wiggo even worked to lead out sprints! Bravo and I can’t wait until next year.

  5. Lachlan

    If anyone provided any trace of “boring” (which I didn’t find) it’s the guys who didn’t manage to mount more frequent attacks. Not Wiggin’s and the bench-depth of Sky for choosing their moments very well indeed.

  6. Champs

    Had Sagan and Cavendish not taken a few wins, this would be a snoozer for the ages. Wiggins all but led the GC going into Stage 1. Two weeks later, Sky had suffocated the very last of any real competition. The racing was boring.

    Apart from that, the *racers* were boring. These aren’t the blue chip protagonists of the story as we have known it for years. Instead of Bo and Luke Duke, we’ve got their cousins Coy and Vance.

    Wiggins wasn’t matched up with the Evans of old, or Contador and Andy Schleck on GC at all. In the time trials, Cancellara and Martin were non-factors. That’s a lot of missing people.

    And that list goes on: it’s not a points competition without Hushovd or Boonen. Sagan is as fast as anyone but Cavendish, but how does he match up with crafty veterans?

  7. Gowers

    Great writing.

    This was a great tour for many reasons and will be long remembered just not for aggressive mountain stage attacks. The class of the leader, a new level of sports science and tactics from the leaders’ team. A world champion carrying bidons and pacing the peloton over minor hills. The Green Jersey winner out-climbing polka dot jersey contenders. Cav jumping wheel to wheel to win a sprint and showing a turn of speed that looked like someone had pressed a turbo-boost button. The Polka Dot Jersey winner’s bravery.

    Favourite moment though was Wiggo leading out EBH in the final k round a corner at what looked like 60+kph with the Yellow Jersey flashing passed the camera at the front of the race like it was an team pursuit.

  8. dingbat

    Respectufully disagreeing: Yes, he earned it. Yes, it was hard.

    But I can’t get over the fact that the winner of the Tour de France never once attacked.

    I like a defensive battle as much as the next guy; I’ve been a New Jersey Devils fan since the Jacques Lemaire era; I like baseball better when my team’s in the field. I like suspense movies, where you don’t know whether your character will survive until the end.

    But that’s not excitement.

  9. Mike

    Boring? Noway jose. What Brad said in an interview after stage 7 really caught my attention…and I paraphrase, but he said his guys were riding at 470-480 watts “not quite threshold…” on the climb.

    The training they must have done to be able to do that on every climb is astounding to think about. Sitting there watching Bernie, Edvald, Ritchie, Christian, Michael, literally crush the spirits & legs/lungs of the other teams without so much as a grimace just blew me away.

    There were no attacks because nobody had the power to get away except Chris and Bradley!

    Bravo Team Sky!

  10. Steve

    Amen. The discipline and focus of Wiggins and the whole Sky organization were nothing short of amazing. And I loved watching Wiggins lead out Cav on more than one occasion–if you’ve got the form, why not rub your opponents’ noses in it? Winning the Tour in such dominant fashion requires breaking both their bodies and their spirits.

    Hats off to Wiggo and his Sky squad for an awesome win.

  11. Nico

    Boring with a capital B for Bradley. Watching Wiggo sit on wheels for 3 weeks is not exciting and will never have you jumping out of your seat. He never attacked once because he never had to. He rode a perfectly Boring race. I pray that with Contador and Schleck back next year, boxing it out in the mountains they will make the race exciting. I found the Giro this year far more exciting and entertaining then the Tour. Why?

  12. Diablo de Acero

    Ahem…huh..What? Sorry, I just woke up. Excuse me. Is the tour over already?

    It seems since EVERY magazine and website has written or posted about whether the tour was boring or not. Means there is doubt. If the tour was a real nail biter, this subject would never come up. By it simply being debated or justified at all, shows evidence of being a snoozefest.

  13. DavidA

    Maybe it was boring because you didnt have people so jacked on dope that they climb 3 mountain passes breathing through their nose. Thats the downside of “clean” there isnt the crushing body blows that come from being doped up, i think everyone thought the same kinds of things about other teams in the past…sitting and controling the front, etc etc. if they didnt like it why didnt they do something about it???? Oh, and by the way did you hear them say the peleton was doing 70kph for about 1 and 1/2 hours?? try doing that on your next tues or thursday night training ride.

  14. noel

    if it was in any way ‘boring’, rather than stick that to Sky surely that is the fault of a) everyone else for not having the panache to attack, the guile to gang up, the condition to live with the pace or b) Prudhomme for designing Wiggins the perfect parcour (TTs, not many hilltop finishes etc). And you can’t blame them for making hay while Contador, Schleck, Evans etc had their own issues.
    I found it utterly compelling, and I loved the way Cav handled himself throughout the process in all sorts of ways, and was delighted that he got his reward on stages 18 and 20.

  15. Big Mikey

    Interesting. I suspect the regard for Wiggins’ win is strongly correlated to which side of the Atlantic one inhabits.

  16. Adam

    CHAPEAU ROBOT! Chapeau Wiggeau! Of the most recent 15 Tours de France (the only ones I have ever seen) this was the most exciting examples of sport I have witnessed. Sure, Lance was entertainment, but it is now no longer sport. It’s only taken seven years since Lance’s final words of victory were spoken from atop the podium, but watching this Tour and even last years, now, I believe.

  17. DavidA

    @Robot, just so you know I used to train with Bradleys dad, Gary Wiggens when I lived in Gent and Lokeren Belgium in the 80’s. I know he and his son were estranged and it was alot of disappointing stuff going down over the years, but Gary was a classy track/kermis pro. He won a few of them. something not even Barry Hoban could do.I thought it was nice that Paul Sherwan made mention of Gary Wiggns. I know if he were still living he would be so proud of his son Bradley who has eclipsed his dad in the PRO game.

  18. Jesus from Cancun

    I have to agree with Robot. Of course we all would like to have seen attacks, chases, nail biting action on the road. But there is also beauty in watching a masterful plan being achieved to perfection, kilometer by kilometer, day by day.

    I enjoyed following every day of this Tour, just like sometimes I enjoy Chess rather than WWE wrestling fights.

    I am looking forward, though, to next year with Contador, Schleck, a more mature Froome, a stronger BMC with on form Evans, TJ, Thor and Gilbert, a stronger Nibali, and a few etceteras.

  19. John

    Team Sky crafted and executed the perfect game plan – clearly heads and tails above the rest. But, it did make for what was a snoozer of a tour. Cadel, Voeckler and Pinot made for interesting moments, but there was no real competition.

    To compound it, I think the course selection contributed to the boring perspective. Sprints and timetrials are interesting, but there is nothing more spectacular than watching the peloton disintegrate up steep climbs. The more suffering, the more interesting.

    Hats off to Sky – they were prepared and dished out pain to the others. Just wish other teams were as prepared and top riders were in similar form as Wiggo.

  20. Sam J

    To explain my thoughts on Wiggo, I’m quoting Bill Simmons here, specifically with regards to the 1990’s Utah Jazz teams.

    “I’m springing one of my favorite theories here: the Tipping Point Friend. Every group of female college friends goes between eight and twelve girls deep. Within that group, there might be three or four little cliques and backstabbing is through the roof, but the girls get along for the most part and make a big deal about hanging out, doing dinners, having special weekends and everything else. Maybe two of them get married early, then the other ones start dropping in their mid-20s until there’s only five left – the cute blonde who can’t get a boyfriend because she’s either a drunk, an anorexic, or a drunkorexic; the cute brunette who only attracts assholes; the 185-pounder who’d be cute if she lost weight; the not-so-cute one with a great sense of humor; and the sarcastic chain-smoker with 36DDs who isn’t quite cute enough to land anyone but hooks up a lot because of the 36DDs. In this scenario, the cute brunette is the Tipping Point Friend – as long as she’s in the group, guys will approach them in bars, clubs or wherever. Once she settles down with a non-asshole, now all the pressure is on the drunkorexic and if she can’t handle it, then the girl with 36DDs has to start wearing crazy shirts and blouses to show off her guns. My point is this: the Jazz were the sarcastic chain-smoker with the 36DDs who hooked up often but never found a serious suitor. By 1997, their competitors had dropped out and they were suddenly the hottest friend in the group. Does that mean they were hot? No!!! No!!!!!!! For the love of god, no!!!!!!!!”

    Wiggo is the Jazz. All his competitors had disappeared for one reason or another. Contador: Doping, Schleck: Injury, Menchov, Sastre, Evans: Age. Samu and Nibali were the other friends in the group who were even lower on the totem pole, and none of the younger guys had been able to step up to the serious GC contender level. Unfortunately for cycling there weren’t a Hakeem and a Jordan able to step up and stop Wiggo from taking the title. Did Wiggins win, yes? Is he a true Tour champion? For the love of god, no!!!!!!!!! Seriously, JJ Cobo whupped his ass in a more traditionally proportioned GC last year. Wiggo was lucky as hell. He had a year with a perfect course for him, as well as a dearth of serious contenders, among the best of whom was his own teammate. Stupid.

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