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Wiggo’s legacy: 10 years on from Sir Bradley Wiggins’ 2012 Tour de France win

In-depth
22 Jul 2022
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Ten years ago today Bradley Wiggins stood on the Champs-Élysées podium as the winner of the 2012 Tour de France. A decade on, we hear from a range of industry figures on Wiggo’s legacy, and how it changed a naton’s attitude to cycling

Words Felix Lowe

The lamb chops. The Paul Weller haircut. The TT wins. The yellow jersey. Team tensions on La Toussuire. Leading out Mark Cavendish on the Rue de Rivoli. The mic drop. Legs crossed on the throne outside Hampton Court. Jamming on stage with the Modfather himself…

It’s hard to believe that an entire decade has passed since Bradley Wiggins rode into the record books by becoming Britain’s first ever Tour de France winner.

This breakthrough triumph for British cycling came five years after the Tour’s Grand Départ in London and just five days before the world’s most recognisable pair of sideburns rang the bell to open the London 2012 Olympics.

A gold medal in the time-trial capped an extraordinary summer for a man who would soon be partying with his music idol Paul Weller, as Wiggins finally blew off some steam.

Photo: John Berry / Getty Images

A decade after his seminal victory on the roads of France, Wiggo returned to the pro peloton this July. From the back of a motorcycle in his current role for Eurosport and GCN, he shared pearls of wisdom in his own imitable style, running the rule over a new generation of cyclists that follows in his significant tyre tracks.

Since Wiggins broke the ice on the Paris podium with a jest about drawing the raffle numbers, British cycling has hit the jackpot with four riders winning ten Grand Tours between them – more than any other nation. The butterfly effect of a rider of Wiggins’s charisma bringing home the world’s biggest bike race has been staggering.

To celebrate the 10th anniversary of this milestone, Cyclist approached a number of industry figures to gauge the wider legacy of Bradley Wiggins’s yellow jersey heroics.

Brian Cookson

President of British Cycling 1997-2013, UCI President 2013-2017

‘Cycling was already on a roll in Great Britain before 2012 and this was the icing on the cake of a golden era. Bradley changed the public consciousness. He was the apotheosis of a generation of success that ensured Britain was taken seriously as a cycling nation.

‘By winning the Tour and then – as the hero of the hour – the time-trial gold at London 2012, he gave a message to every aspiring young rider that everything was achievable: people like us could do it.

‘We didn’t have to be from some kind of exotic background or from a traditional cycling nation – we could do it with British support and with the right people behind us. It was a very rewarding moment, and we now have a new generation coming through with the Taos, the Ethans, the Bäckstedts.

‘I went to the UCI in 2013 once this whole process had started and it was amazingly satisfying that the strategy which we started at British Cycling in 1997 came to fruition. It was a brilliant epoch in our history.

Photo: John Berry / Getty Images

‘To think that Team Sky could take a sprinter to the Tour and still win the overall with such an astonishingly comprehensive performance – while seeing Cavendish take three stages – was unbelievable.

‘When I first started cycling, people used to shout from the side of the roads, “Who do you think you are – Reg Harris?” Now it’s, “Who do you think you are – Bradley Wiggins?” I’ve never seen so many people riding bikes, and Bradley has been a key part of that motivation, that making cycling cool again.

‘In the 1960s I’d be lucky to find two or three cycling books in the whole of Lancashire’s libraries. Now there are entire bookcases dedicated to cycling in bookshops. It’s just astonishing when you think about it – and all part of the legacy.’

Tao Geoghegan Hart

Ineos Grenadiers rider and winner of the 2020 Giro d’Italia

‘My abiding memory of the 2012 Tour is probably the lead-out on the Champs-Élysées – when Sky showed its strength in depth one last time. It was special to see Wiggins in yellow lead out the World Champion Mark Cavendish in his rainbow jersey.

‘I don’t think we will ever witness something like that again – certainly not from two British riders.

‘The thing I remember distinctively was that we had a Great Britain training camp at the track at Newport in Wales when the Olympics was taking place, and every time we went for a ride outside we got so much support from the public.

‘It was a great summer for sport and we noticed that in training – for those few weeks at least.’

Photo: Tim de Waele / Getty Images

Carlton Kirby

Commentator for Eurosport and GCN

‘Bradley Wiggins’s legacy is a joyous one. He was the full package. With the way he looked and performed for that victory, he launched cycling in the UK. In 21 days he basically transformed the nation’s consciousness regarding cycling.

‘Whatever your views going forward, the belief at the time was that this was an amazing first chapter that had been opened up for the cycling future. We got a glimpse of it and Wiggins was at the centre – he was the poster boy.

‘When Wiggins says something, people listen. Same as Mark Cavendish. They put on a hat, everyone wants to buy the hat. Chris Froome puts on a hat, I’m not sure it has the same impact.

‘Bradley was the rock star and was always going to get the attention. Team Sky came all guns blazing on a course that was designed for them and it was just magical watching it unfold. You couldn’t have scripted it better.

‘I remember the joy of the mic drop at the end. Christian Prudhomme was happy because he’d got what he wanted: extra money, huge attention, entry into potential markets abroad, the people of Britain talking about cycling like never before, Wiggins knighted, the Yorkshire Grand Départ two years later – and then Bradley picks up the microphone and says, “We’re just going to draw the raffle numbers.”

‘In one fell swoop he burst a pretentious bubble that ruled these kind of proceedings. The formality was just washed away and we saw Wiggins bolster his heroic status. He just couldn’t help himself.

Photo: John Berry / Getty Images

‘Everyone burst out laughing and you should have seen the translators’ faces at the finish – they had no idea what he was going on about. “What eez zis raffle?

‘Once the Tour was finished, Wiggins said he achieved his ultimate goal. That must have been a burden because where do you go from there? Froome later proved that you can keep winning.

‘But I still think that of all the Tours that Froome won brilliantly, Bradley Wiggins was the watershed moment when suddenly we all believed that we could win the Tour, that other Brits could do so.

‘And all of a sudden there was a whole sequence of British winners. You need an impresario for the show to get off the road – and that was Bradley Wiggins.’

Will Pearson

Co-owner of Pearson Performance in London, the world’s oldest bike shop

‘We had the Tour on every day in the store and there was never a dull moment. People would come in and stay all day, drinking cup after cup of coffee. Getting the staff to do any bloody work was hard, but it was just so amazing.

‘What Bradley achieved that summer captured so many people’s imaginations and definitely kickstarted the industry again. It created a wave of enthusiasm from people who had never been cyclists or who hadn’t ridden a bike since they were kids.

Photo: Bryn Lennon / Getty Images

‘Wiggins became a national treasure. It was such a feel-good story. He transformed the way people thought about cycling and inspired so many. I even remember going on rides with people who’d turn up with imitation lamb chops that they stuck on just for a laugh.

‘He also managed to bring more life and character to cycling, which made athletes look more human and in touch. I’ll never forget his speech on the Champs-Élysées when he talked about the raffle.

‘That sense of humour goes a long way and it’s something we try to employ in our shop. People respond in a positive way because it’s often very daunting for anyone to enter somewhere that’s performance-oriented.

‘They feel quite anxious, so an ice-breaker goes a long way to make people feel comfortable and at ease.

‘Wiggins sells cycling really well. It’s not just about the sport, it’s about the culture, and you see him on the motorbike now for Eurosport and he has a really good approach to how he presents cycling. It’s quirky and interesting and comes from a great deal of experience, which people respect.

‘Watching him win the TT gold from the side of the road was one of the most exciting things I’ve seen in cycling. The sheer noise was utterly brilliant. It brought a lot of joy for so many and created a community who weren’t necessarily cycling fans before the Tour and Olympics.

‘It inspired another generation to get going. For example, Pearson Performance is now involved with Magnus Bäckstedt’s U19 development team and one of the riders is the son of a customer who’s been hell-bent on being a pro for the last ten years since Wiggins’s win. Knowing that there’s a route through has inspired him.

Photo: Bryn Lennon / Getty Images

‘The 2012 Tour catapulted cycling as a sport and a culture into the mainstream. Before, cycling was seen almost as a sub-culture and rather nerdy. But after Wiggins’s win, Rapha did their bit to make the MAMIL look good in a bit of merino, bringing a certain amount of style to the sport and attracting a higher profile of customer.

‘Now look at the RideLondon event where wave after wave of cyclists is living the dream. It’s extraordinary – complete proof of that legacy and testament to that whole era of Brad.’

Gareth Nettleton

Former global head of marketing at Strava

‘Bradley Wiggins’s Tour win allowed Strava to flourish in the immediate aftermath because participation in sport drives the business. It had a huge impact.

‘It was that whole renaissance of cycling that we charted back to the 2008 Olympics at the start of a boom that really accelerated around Bradley’s Tour win and the home Olympics.

Photo: Tim de Waele / Getty Images

‘As humans we are attracted to interesting people and all of their greatness as well as the things that are challenging about them. For me, because Bradley had such a personality and aura, he had an immense impact on the crossover to a much more mainstream audience.

‘He pulled cycling out of its nicheness. Suddenly we had a number of really high-profile role models who were famous for riding bikes. It was a golden era for the sport of cycling in the UK, which rippled globally as well. Consequently, Strava grew much faster in the UK than anywhere else in the world.

‘It was as if Wiggins lit a match. People got into cycling – they realised how good it is for them and how enjoyable it is. There’s a segment named after Wiggins coming into Hampton Court on the Olympic Time-Trial course that has been ridden by hundreds of thousands of people in the ten years since.

‘So you can absolutely pinpoint that era as a hugely transformative opportunity for Strava. Back then Strava had about two million users globally. Today it’s at 100 million. The numbers in the UK are well over ten million – I think 17 per cent of the UK is on Strava. Going back to 2012, that was probably less than one per cent.

‘Strava rode on the coattails of Wiggins’s success. Rapha did the same. When you have a sector that booms, the impact is a real ripple. Strava grew through word of mouth.

‘The hardest growth phase is to go from nothing to a million people; in the UK that happened really quickly because of this boom. That spark is the biggest challenge so it’s really nice when external factors help that spark happen.’

Jenny Box

Deputy director of behaviour change and development, Cycling UK

‘While we don’t think the dual successes of the Tour and Olympics had an impact on increasing cycling trips, it did raise awareness of the breadth of the entire sport.

‘Things like the Olympic Park, where you can cycle in a safe traffic-free environment, and the VeloPark, where you can try all the different disciplines, were incredible legacies of that great summer of 2012.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

‘Having someone who is relatable and who can be aspirational for people in so many ways – not just through athletic performance but also through who they are, where they come from and how they talk about cycling – is really important in helping to promote grassroots cycling.

‘But it’s not just Tour champions like Wiggins, it’s local champions. For instance, the black woman in her fifties who learned to cycle because she wanted more independence, who is now a really important role model in her local community in Birmingham.

‘People like this are relatable and help make cycling more accessible. Whether it’s Olympic legacy, international sporting success or something local – it all feeds into the inspiration to help people take that next step to giving the bike a go, joining a club, doing some training.

‘Events that sprung up after 2012 – like RideLondon and the Tour de Yorkshire – helped visibility. Having something come down your road or through your borough is something everyone can talk about.

‘It showcases the benefits of the sport and makes it more accessible. Closed-roads events are so important for getting families and children involved in an experience that’s different to the elite-level event put on. It’s so much more than watching the professionals on TV.

‘For example, during the Tour de Yorkshire we used to set up a stand to help promote our big borough behaviour changes, which helped in our community engagement.

‘We could demonstrate that cycling wasn’t just about long-distance road racing but also pootling around your local area and having fun in a safe and enjoyable environment.’

Main image: Doug Pensinger / Getty Images