Bradley Wiggins crowned king of the road after Olympic gold
Published 02/08/2012 | 09:12
Oh, the law of unintended consequences. Cardinal Wolsey built Hampton Court Palace as a symbol of his status at the heart of the royal court. He certainly did not envisage its surrender to the boss, Henry VIII, still less as the backdrop to the coronation of Bradley Wiggins almost 500 years later.
The king of the road saw through the grand associations, distancing himself from any pretension to be someone other than himself. "I never considered this to be London over here," he said when asked if there might be an emotional attachment to winning gold in his home town. "It used to be called the Home Counties. I'm very much a Wiganer these days."
Wiggins said he would never again experience the adulation he felt riding home, pretty much certain that he had won gold. A bigger crowd than Henry ever drew, well voluntarily anyway, hammered out their salutations as he rode back through the gates after crossing the line 42 seconds clear of Tony Martin in second. It was a fanfare for the common man, the communion of folk hero and his people.
Even the police and the armed forces snapped away as he sat briefly on the faux thrones positioned on the palace lawns, mementos of the day they saw Wiggins win gold in the flesh. Had he at that moment mounted a coup to overthrow the coalition and run this island, you felt that the state apparatus would line up right behind him. Sorry Boris, you can hang from as many zip wires as you like, you would never get the vote to replace David Cameron if Wiggo ran for office.
Not that he will. He prefers the unconditional love that comes with being the king of cool, a truly colossal figure riding unopposed across the cycling landscape. There was an attempt to knight him in the press conference that followed immediately after the gold medal ceremony. Fair enough, we thought. Not him. He declined the honour, saying: "Sir Wiggo doesn't sound right, to be honest. As much of an honour as it would be to receive it, I would just put it in a drawer. I'll always be Brad."
"Great bloke wins gold" does not quite do justice to what happened yesterday, yet that is the essential truth of the matter. He thought he might take a vodka tonic or two to celebrate, watch his mates at the Velodrome tonight, then nick a few days with the family in Wigan waiting to see what happens next. "You train all year for results. You can't train or plan for what happens in terms of all of this. I want to go back to a normal life. Whether that happens is another matter. That's why people end up at the Priory, I guess."
It was immediate evident the moment he swung his ten grand, carbon fibre prototype around the first left-hander that he was starring in something special. On the ramp as the clock counted down, those copious sideburns protruding magnificently beneath his helmet, his vascular arms displaying ropes for veins, Wiggins was a coiled titan on wheels.
He couldn't have noticed but when the time comes to watch the newsreels of this day he might spot among the packed roadside throng countless hairy tributes glued to the faces of the Wiggomaniacs cheering him on. This was the point at which we fully understood the powerful migration made by Wiggins from sporting hero to household legend following his Tour de France coronation.
About the same time as Wiggins burst out of the traps, another hall-of-famer was entering the stalls at Goodwood. Surely the timing of these twin assaults on fable was the work of a higher authority. Wiggins and Frankel, speeding into history 50 miles apart. The cost of cocking a leg over the saddle of a horse is somewhat greater than the price attached to a bike at Halfords, and therein lies the appeal of this greatest of Britons.
"I guess someone will be inspired by this. They keep banging on about legacy but it is the athletes themselves who inspire. And this is a facility that costs nothing to use. When this is over anyone can ride the circuit we rode today pretending they are one of us. They have been riding up Box Hill since the beginning of the year. That is the thing about cycling. It is accessible to anybody."
Just like Wiggins. For now. The escalation in celebrity is about to hit warp speed. His fourth Olympic gold took his medal tally to seven, unchartered territory for a Briton. The crass scaling of success will see lists being drawn over the coming days seeking to classify the relative achievements of our sporting history-makers. The inevitable comparison with Sir Steve Redgrave, he of the five gold medals and one bronze, has already begun. Who to stick at the top of the tree?
Here is another idea. Do away with the question. Let them exist in their own space. Let us enjoy them both for their separate and distinct contributions to sport and resist the temptation to put them in opposite corners of a debating ring. Wiggins, for one, could not care less.
"To be mentioned in the same breath as Redgrave and [Sir Chris] Hoy is an honour. Ultimately it's about gold for me anyway."