July 23rd, 2012 by Tim Greenhalgh
Bradley Wiggins, winner of the 2012 Tour de France is the new brand for a revolution in professional cycling.
He has, at a (pedal) stroke, reset the Tour clock to zero. From now, pro road racing – that most benighted of athletic trades â€“ will take its rightful place at the apex of sport. And the Tour de France will be at the forefront.
At the core of this revolution is the emotive word â€œcleanâ€.
Around 3.6 million people in the UK watched his ride into Paris yesterday (Sunday 22nd July) on ITV and ITV4 and many others were watching on Eurosport â€“ a very healthy number of eyeballs, given pro cyclingâ€™s tortured history.
You’ll know by now that Bradley Wiggins is the first pro cyclist from the UK to win the Tour de France butÂ Iâ€™m not sure whether everyone watching Bradley (@bradwiggins) understood exactly how unbelievably awesome his Tour de France performance was. Not sure if I do fully yet. I think he does, though!
I have seen some truly majestic battles in this hardest of all professional sports events since I first watched it on Channel 4 in 1987, when Stephen Roche rode the race of his life and we saw the epic finish of Stage 21 at La Plagne, which effectively won him the Tour, psychologically battering his main opponent Pedro Delgado.
In 1989, I was in France to watch Greg LeMond beat the late Laurent Fignon by eight seconds to win the TdF for a second time, less than two years after he nearly died in a hunting accident in the US.
In 1990, I covered the final time trial, which sealed LeMondâ€™s third Tour victory, for The Observer newspaper (if I do nothing else, I will die a happy man ).
Yet Bradleyâ€™s 2012 ride was so much better in every respect than these astonishing wins and will, in my humble opinion, never be bettered.
Because the taint of doping that has followed pro cycling around like familiar bad smell (think old wet dog) is finally gone. Itâ€™s been â€˜bradleydâ€™.
I always thought that UK pro cycling, shattered by Tom Simpsonâ€™s drug-associated death on the slopes of Mont Ventoux, was thereafter assigned the cultural role by journalists and some publics of providing a perfect example of what happens when you let working-class people loose in sport and offer them good money to cheat.
But from my time in sports journalism and following and loving sport for nearly 50 years, I know that pro cycling has not been alone in the doping derby.
To take one personal example – a very good friend, a female discus thrower who was UK national standard, was told by her coach in 1979 that for her to compete at international level she would have to take â€œperformance-enhancingâ€ drugs. But he said he would not want to be her coach if that happened. She quit.
Over the years Iâ€™ve heard numberless accounts of the penetration of doping culture into most sports, attendant to the professionalisation of these activities. Cycling was the only sport I saw being systematically branded as â€œuncleanâ€.
I am sure that Bradley Wigginsâ€™ Tour de France win will see a deep, lasting cultural change in attitudes to cycling. We are witness to the Birth of the Clean Age. Because of that, Bradley is the hottest property in professional sport.
In brand marketing terms, Bradley Wiggins is a new, unique form. John Reynolds over at Marketing magazine reports that Wiggoâ€™s commercial off-track earnings value would be around Â£5 million. If you trebled that, you might be getting close. Long live Wiggo. Long live Clean.