On the best day of the year – whatever that means – it feels, in that sun-induced schmaltzy-lazy kindofaway, good. Everything does, prettymuch. I just know the sea is fabulous and sparkling; I know the sand is warming and occasionally spiky with heat. I can feel a gentle enough but breathy buzz from visitors and from horses and from yeh – summerstuff. So it’s good. Like the knowledge, the specific knowledge that soon enough I will be jumping off a ledge, with a gang of kids, like some kamikaze or maybe just pleasingly renegade fulmar. Bombing not gracefully gliding or wheeling. Because the sea is fabulous and it’s just crazy not to get deeply in. Now.
Bizarrely or entirely not, this deliriously loopy immersion in a real/ideal goodlife feels spooned or churned from the same golden palette as that which delivered a Parisian ‘Promenade des Anglais’ last week. In particular the moments when a certain B Wiggins majestically (but generously) led the peloton back to foolishly impudent strays. Then, in his leader’s yellow jersey, with his absurdly fluent style, not so much dictating as displaying, the Team SKY leader surfed that quiet ecstasy – his utter confidence – in himself, his team, their invincible combination, to the front, to lead out, symbolically and in fact, the undeniable charge. Whilst the relentlessly awesome Cavendish may have hoiked his frame with short-term, violent brilliance, Wiggo oozed serenely to victory.
That bloke Hoy said afterwards it may be the greatest individual sporting achievement by any Brit ever. (Wiggo’s.) Meaning probably it’s worthy of some serious consideration.
An immediate difficulty may be the shared nature of this; how to – or whether to – meaningfully unfurl say, the mountain stages without some inevitable division of the ultimate glory, out from the yellow-gold centre to the domestiques, the drones, the Froome! Or elsewhere ( maybe even in them thar hills!) to Cavendish, himself a freakishly achieving sprinter in this Anglaisfest… and what’s more – a star, a Cycling Personality! How to calibrate What Bradley Did in these extraordinary folds?
The scope and stature of the Tour de France reveals itself to even the casual observer. The scenery; the geography; the half-heard or remembered stories. Cruel distances and just a sense, a TV-muffled or maladjusted sense of the alarming, near death-defying descents; at sixty miles an hour. We all get that I think. Perhaps if we weigh in the breadth of physical demands – from downhill sprinter-racer to uphill marathon man via or plus lung-bursting time-triallist – these are rare, these are special. Wiggins has simply been world-class throughout; all of these ludicrously disparate challenges being met with a uniform, even-tempered authority.
The scale and the breadth and the historic nature of the accomplishment are surely general knowledge then. Unfortunately however they are undermined in the minds of many by concerns about doping. Not necessarily doping by Wiggins or by SKY but by doping in the sport.
Cycling is not alone in being a manifestly ‘unclean’ sport but its profile is more seriously buffeted rather than buffed by disproportionate news stories – cases of drug use, typically – than almost any other sport. From the early days (when amphetamines were blatantly used) to today’s combination of performance enhancement and masking combo’s a steady trickle of often disappointingly major players have taken stimulants. To the extent that some feel cyclists – like sprinters? – are not to be trusted in this. Wiggins himself had to – or opted to? – put out a staunch and aggressive denial of any abuse of this sort early in this tour. I hope to god he was being truthful. Otherwise my colourific bliss washes dismally out.
But today the sun has shined. And I did and I do return to those golden moments; two in particular. Stages 18 and 20 were drawing to their final few kilometres. Team SKY had gathered at the arrowhead of the peloton to raise speed and haul in foolish outliers. With crowds now massing around the streets towards the finish (one of these streets incidentally name of Champs Elysees) a striking figure appeared, his cadence high and smooth, at the very point of the broiling. Wiggins. And the crowd… the crowd roared.
Wiggins the tour leader/winner, fearlessly blasting his team and his sprinter towards two late wins. Exposing himself on the one hand, expressing himself on the other. Following a plan agreed on the team bus? Yes. Having said he was ‘in’ when Cavendish asked for a crack at the stage? Yes – as did the others. But the essence of both moments was braver and greater than the mere execution of another plan – brilliant though they have been. (Don’t get me started now on the seamlessly outstanding work of Dave Brailsford, Team Coach!) These were golden moments, great moments in sport which I dare not hope to see bettered even in a London 2012 summer. Wiggins was flying, in concentrated joy, in the knowledge and full expression of his genius and control. It was only right and appropriate that such emphatic brilliance was underlined and even temporarily overshadowed by the irresistible surge of the Manx Missile – Cavendish – to acclaim the line.
Like many Brit sports fans I ‘naturally(!)’ shy away from nationalistic fervour but do do worthwhile fervour. That is, spontaneous and genuine fervour devoid(ish) of racial or political stimulants. The sight of Wiggins – and then Cavendish – so gloriously and big-heartedly achieving as individuals for their team (and for us?) was, I may have to mutter with a little embarrassment, both roar-inducing and weirdly conducive to a sort of… pride.
Days later, I put this down to several things, including the truth of the uniqueness of both athletes in terms of their historic significance (now) and their sheer quality. (For Cav to have won 4 Champs Elysees on the bounce is beyond remarkable/for Wiggo to top the Classification speaks for itself.) Essentially though and in terms of sentiment, they have brought a special kind of summer. A jumping-off point.