If, as anticipated, Bradley Wiggins becomes the first Brit to win the Tour de France, his success will have been achieved with significant Australian assistance. And he will have finally reversed the curious path that road cycling had followed for decades in the United Kingdom.

I want to ride my bicycle… Pic: Supplied/Historical

Many Australians will be disappointed that Cadel Evans was unable to defend his yellow jersey. It was always going to be difficult for the Australian. At 34 years of age, he was the oldest winner of the Tour since the Second World War. Only 13 riders have won back-to-back Tours, although six of them - Louison Bobet, Jacques Anquetil, Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault, Miguel Indurain and Lance Armstrong - did it more than once.

Evans also had an interrupted season and some bad luck during the three-week race.

Although Evans knew he was marked by the Sky team of Wiggins, he launched a number of attacks to try to wrestle the race from the British rider. As he confessed later, sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, but at least he had a go in the mountain stages, knowing that the Beijing gold medallist would outpace him in the time trials.

It was the result of one of these attempts that Cadel dropped from second position to fourth. Then a stomach bug hit on the 16th stage over the Col d’Aspin. He struggled to get back to the yellow jersey group on the descent, but couldn’t stay with them up the final climb of the Peyresourde.

Wiggins’ victory was built on the performances of a number of Aussies. Much of the dominance of the Sky team was provided by Michael Rogers and Richie Porte, who for kilometre after kilometre regulated the pace at the front of the peloton, or helped to chase down attempted breaks for their race leader. The two Aussies, along with the talented Kenyan-born, Chris Froome, have been the lynchpins in Wiggins’ success.

Sky has not only had the benefit of experienced riders like Rogers, but other team personnel from down under. Sky’s coach, Shane Sutton, was an Australian track champion, winner of the Sun Tour, and a gold medallist at the 1978 Commonwealth Games in the team’s pursuit. He had also won Britain’s major tour, the Milk Race, in 1990. Aussie sports scientist, Tim Kerrison, is also part of the British outfit.

Even the funding for Sky Team is connected with Australia. Rupert Murdoch’s BSkyB and News Corporation are major sponsors of the team, with the broadcaster providing £30 million for sponsorship and naming rights until the end of 2013.

Wiggins’ personal connections with Australia run deeper. His late father, Gary, from Yallourn in Victoria’s La Trobe Valley, was a national track champion before racing in Europe where he became a six-day race specialist. He won the prestigious six-day event at the Bremen velodrome in 1985. It was while his father was competing in Europe that Bradley was born, at Ghent, Belgium.

With a little Aussie assistance, British cycling has finally overcome the handicap it imposed upon itself more than a century ago.

Despite the fact that the great European one-day races and tours were conducted just across the English Channel, few Brits ventured beyond the white cliffs of Dover. An Englishman, James Moore, had won the first recorded cycle race in France. Riding an ironed wheeled, wooden framed machine with solid rubber tyres over 1,200 metres, Moore defeated a field of Frenchmen at the Parc de Saint Cloud, Paris, in 1868.

Moore was unofficially recognised as the first world champion of the new sport. The following year, Moore won the first recorded city-to-city event, from Paris to Rouen, covering the 123 kilometres in 10 hours and 40 minutes. In 1873, at Wolverhampton in England, he rode an amazing 14.4 miles (23.33 kilometres) in an hour on his heavy iron and wooden machine.

In 1881, the first six-day race was held on a cinder track in England. Racing for almost a week, the riders fought to overcome pain, hunger, and tiredness to outlast their rivals.

A few years later, in 1890, the first governing body of the sport in the UK, the National Cyclists’ Union, banned racing on open roads. Why the ban occurred – and how it lasted for sixty years while road racing boomed in Europe is surprising.

Some historians of the sport suggest it was a consequence of the nation’s class structure. As the bicycle became a means of mass transport for the lower classes from the 1880s, wealthy, country landholders simply decided that they didn’t want bike races spoiling the tranquillity of their manors and estates! And a compliant public acceded to their ban.

In 1895, a racing cyclist, Frederick Bidlake, found a way to circumvent the ban by conducting time trials on open roads. Riders would start at one minute intervals, and be timed over a set course. For the next half century, this became Britain’s only form of road racing.

It was this world of secretive meeting points, few spectators, ‘dark clothing from neck to ankle’, and disguised officials that the Australian cyclist, Hubert Opperman, encountered in 1934 when he raced the length of the British Isles from Lands End to John O’Groats in his pursuit of both the world 24 hours and 1,000 miles records:

I commenced from Land’s End at 7 am on July 16th. English cycling’s clandestine formula gave it the drama of a postman pushing off on his daily round. Some 10 officials, mechanics and drivers, the hotel-keeper and his wife comprised the gathering. Accustomed to the emotion of the crowded boulevards and the unconcealed assembling of Australians on arterial roads . . . the departure had all the inspiration of a Bankruptcy Court.

Little changed in the next two decades.

Following the Second World War, a breakaway group formed which began to stage road races. But enmity and distrust prevailed until 1959 when the warring groups finally merged. Even then, the in-fighting continued for a decade. The Milk Race, sponsored by the Milk Board of England and Wales, commenced in 1959, and later morphed into the Tour of Britain.

A British team had contested the Tour de France in 1955, with Brian Robinson winning a stage. But few British riders joined the European ranks. Britain still lagged behind as the Australians, Irish and Americans began to make their mark in the Mecca of world cycling.

Sean Yates, now the sporting director of Sky Team, emerged with a group of talented British road cyclists in the 1990s, winning a series of major events, and wearing the maillot jeune during the 1994 Tour de France. Their experience and influence, plus some significant colonial assistance, is now paying off for the British national team.

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36 comments

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    • Julie says:

      07:10am | 21/07/12

      Just as well for Wiggins that Chris Froome is riding for him, or we would have the first African Tour winner.

    • Gregg says:

      07:33am | 21/07/12

      Well thanks for that Kevin and now we know we’re not being beaten by a Pommie afterall and in fact he is as near to being an Australian as a Brit and was not even born there.
      Maybe you should look into new legislation against sports traitoring, it just not being cricket though we should not mention that too much at the moment.

    • Joan says:

      10:16am | 21/07/12

      Gregg: sports traitoring is the norm. Its all about personal and financial gain - nothing to do about allegiance, loyalty to country or local team - take a look at football , rugby even Olympics. A super passionate sportsman will trade their soul to be number one on the dais, the gold medal, and to get multimillion dollar sponsership contracts.

    • marley says:

      11:03am | 21/07/12

      Sports “traitoring” has nothing to do with events like the Tour.  This is a professional team sport, the teams are not national teams but teams of the best riders the owners can get their hands on, and no one cares about the nationality of any of them. 

      And looking at his bio, Wiggins had an English mother and has lived in the UK since the age of 2, has been cycling for Britain in Olympic events for over a decade, and would, I suggest, be as British as Andrew Symonds is Australian.  The Brits are absolutely entitled to claim his as one of their own.

      We all know that there have been lots of questionable “purchases” of athletes, especially Olympic athletes (Merlene Ottey, running for Slovenia;  Zola Budd, running for the UK; and a few others come to mind) and neither Australia nor Britain is exempt from criticism on this point.  But Wiggins isn’t one of those cases.

    • Gregg says:

      08:55am | 23/07/12

      Just kidding guys and look even with the Olympics I never really see it as country against country as much as I like to see Australians do well for any achievments in any field are to the credit of whomever is doing the achieving if done without the help of drugs and otherwise cheating.

      I’d even egg on Julia in a triathlon against Tony, not that she would ever start one other than in political terms and if Ant’s team played well enough to win, that’d be good too, it’was Sunday afterall.

    • DocBud says:

      08:34am | 21/07/12

      A lengthy, well-researched article demonstrating once again that Aussies are ungracious losers.

    • marley says:

      09:15am | 21/07/12

      I see nothing ungracious about this article at all.

      It’s an interesting insight into the history of road racing in the UK.  It pays tribute to the rebirth of British cycling.  What more do you want?

      It also points out the obvious - that the Tour is and always has been a team effort, reliant on the journeymen cyclists as much as on the star rider, to achieve victory.  If Wiggins wins, he will do so because he is a very good cyclist backed by a solid team, just as was the case when Evans won last year.

    • Al B says:

      12:23pm | 21/07/12

      Agree i thought it was a great read, would have been disappointed if there wasnt at least a little dig at the english!

    • Bertrand says:

      11:06pm | 21/07/12

      I’ve actually found Kevin Andrews’ series on cycling to be very interesting and certainly not jingoistic. Plus it’s given the author a personal dimension that exists outside of the political.

      My favourite part of this article: “As the bicycle became a means of mass transport for the lower classes from the 1880s, wealthy, country landholders simply decided that they didn’t want bike races spoiling the tranquillity of their manors and estates!”

      Damned 1930’s NIMBYs!

    • stephen says:

      09:18am | 21/07/12

      I’m surprized the riders are wearing earbuds ; I thought that from the 2010 Tour, contact with the team Director was banned and that riders would have no forward information as to tactics or what was up the road.

      This Tour seems boring.
      There weren’t enough mountain stages, and the ones which did appear were too late to shuffle the placings for a more exciting race.
      Almost predictable, and next year the organizers should more wild card riders.
      Wiggins’s sideburns would help draught the following riders and the UCI should do a tunnel test.

    • Kirk says:

      10:29am | 21/07/12

      Spot on DocBud! Had to make it all about Australia.  The article smells of poor sportsmanship.

    • Jeff says:

      01:41pm | 21/07/12

      Fascinating article again Kev. I had always wondered why the Brits had not had more success in road cycling. Since they copies our AIS, their track cycling has gone from strength to strength.

      It is not poor sportsmanship to point out the Australian connections to an Australian audience. The Aussie squad, Green Edge, also has overseas riders.

      Stephen is correct aout this year’s format. Not as exciting as in the past, and ideal for a time trial specialist like Wiggins.

    • Susan says:

      01:54pm | 21/07/12

      I’ve been attacked for commenting on Tour related topics before so let’s see how I fare this time.  But I’ll get it over with, I also think aspects this year have been a bit boring.  The Tour so close to the Olympics is one reason and certain names being out is another.

      I suspect Cadel was not going to win this year, tummy bug the other day or not.  I didn’t see - aside from one race section - anything that would have said…yep, Cadel will repeat the win.  I was barracking for him but I think you need to be realistic.  The magic really wasn’t there this year, not consistently enough and you need that to win the Tour.

      Sky have been incredibly strong performers and I wish Bradley Wiggins - a UK rider - all the very very best.  Froome is riding for the U.K. Olympic team and they will be formidable.  Whether they have been in-fighting is their own business.

      Greenedge have been fantastic for their first year as a team and they should be proud.  Australia should be proud of them.

      But I have always thought Aussies gracious enough to get behind someone like Wiggins and support him simply for the sake he has done so well. Froome aid aside (and that’s what he’s there for anyway).  Being ungracious and constantly making excuses for our own talent is poor.

    • Ricky says:

      04:26pm | 21/07/12

      Get a life, guys, even Phil Liggett has pointed out how much the Aussies have helped Wiggins! Good luck to him, but a boring tour, apart from the emergence of Sagan and Froome as new forces in the peloton.

    • DocBud says:

      12:20pm | 22/07/12

      It is most gracious to acknowledge the contribution of others as Phil Liggett has done. It is ungracious to claim credit for somebody else’s success. One expects to hear “you look beautiful” but not “I look beautiful”.

    • marley says:

      02:20pm | 22/07/12

      It is ungracious not to recognise the help and support the winning cyclist got from his team.

    • DocBud says:

      04:58pm | 22/07/12

      Recognising the help and support from others is for the winning cyclist and his supporters to do. Trying to claim a piece of the victory is most ungracious. Suggesting that the ‘pom only did it because of the help of the Aussies and he’s almost one of us anyway, as well as he wasn’t even born in pommieland’ is decidedly ungracious.

    • Nick says:

      06:33pm | 22/07/12

      Sure you’re not over reacting DocBud?  I’m a born pom with no great respect for Australian “sportmanship” and I read it as a light hearted piece looking at the Australian connection.

    • marley says:

      07:00pm | 22/07/12

      @DocBud - “Recognising the help and support from others is for the winning cyclist and his supporters to do.”

      Precisely.  Or are you not a Wiggins’ supporter?

      I get the impression you don’t understand that the Tour and the other great classic races, the Vuelta and the Giro, are team sports.  That no one finishes up with the yellow jersey without a damn strong team to back him up.

      No one here is taking anything away from Wiggins, just pointing out that the engine room of his team includes some Aussie riders.  What the hell is your problem with that?

    • Nick says:

      08:29am | 22/07/12

      Is there anything uglier than an all yellow skin suit?

      What is it with the unspoken rule that all cyclists should have a hideous dress sense?

    • Ban Black says:

      10:14am | 22/07/12

      Nick, I would much prefer a bright Lycra jersey on ordinary cyclists that can be seen by motorists. Cycling in black should be banned - it is difficult to see, especially in the dark and in Winter.

    • Nick says:

      04:43pm | 22/07/12

      Yeah…but a bright yellow skin suit???

      I can cope with coloured jerseys.  Shoes tend to be ridiculous.  There used be a rule that knicks had to be black with just a narrow coloured side pane for your sponsorl.  It made a lot of sense.  You can just about see every detail of the bloke in front’s bum crack through some modern knicks.  Then, as a bonus, on rainy days it looks like they’ve done a poo in their shorts.

    • Susan says:

      11:00am | 22/07/12

      Well, I for one was thrilled with Wiggo’s win last night.  What a machine!  And he threw it down…NOW say something about me needing Froome to pull me through!  Both of them were HOT but Wiggo…well….great stuff and I know Phil Liggett will be crying during the podium ceremony.  He was choked up commentating when Wiggo crossed the line.  History in making for U.K. and what a boost before the Olympics.

    • Nick says:

      01:34pm | 22/07/12

      He was only 1:16 faster than Froome, and Froome clearly had more than that in reserve through the mountains despite pulling for Wiggins.  Wiggins deserves the win but I don’t think he was the stronger all round rider.

      On the face of it Froomes’ talents are wasted at Sky and it would be nice to se him move on.There’s more to being team leader than being the strongest rider though.  There’s team development, the build up phase, and the ability to attract sponsors that all need to be taken into account.  I can’t see Liggett weeping over Froome and there lies the problem.  Froome also seems to lack mongrel or he would have dumped Wiggins and gone after Valverde the other day, so you have to wonder how he’d go if he had full responsibility for the team’s performance.

    • marley says:

      02:26pm | 22/07/12

      I don’t know.  Didn’t they used to say Indurain would have won a Tour a year before he did if his team hadn’t wasted him trying to get Delgado to the front?  Maybe Froome is under team orders to keep Wiggins in the lead.  Once out of Delgado’s shadow, Indurain sure didn’t have a problem taking responsibility.

    • Nick says:

      04:31pm | 22/07/12

      Not saying Froome can’t do it, just saying he needs to go out and get it rather than wait for it to come to him.  He was obviously under team orders, but in that situation where there was absolutely no threat to Wiggins and he could have won comfortably a lot of genuinely ambitious guys would break orders.  Particularly outsiders like Froome, who have no true national base.  It might cost him some support within Sky but he needs Sky to let him go anyway otherwise he’ll be riding second fiddle to Wiggins in next year’s Tour as well. Quite frankly I think he was shafted by his team by not being released to go for the win in that situation.  I hate to mention politics in any Punch article since it will bring out the loonies, but I’d say Costello was a classic example of being too good a team player and look where it got him.

    • Dieter Moeckel says:

      11:53am | 22/07/12

      What a puerile attempt to claim a share of the Wigins victory. There are no national teams nor national riders. These are international cyclists riding in international teams replete in sponsors’ colours not national colours.
      Get it right. These cyclist are not ridding for the glory of their country but the glory of their sponsors. I have seen no winner of a stage pointing out national colours, instead they point to the sponsors on the costumes. No stage winner wraps himself in a national flag and prances about the winning post.
      To attempt to claim credit for the Sky team’s effort by claiming national support is absolute bullshit. The sponsors pay for the wages, the bikes and the support. It has stuff all to do with nationality. Nationality is coincidental.

    • marley says:

      12:41pm | 22/07/12

      Oh for crying out loud.  No one is claiming the Tour is powered by national teams.  The Brits, though, will certainly see Wiggins victory as their own, just as Aussies saw Cadel Evans’ victory as an Australian triumph.  So what? 

      And the point of the Aussie connection to the Sky Team is to show that Australia has a strong cycling culture, good facilities and lots of up and coming riders, some of whom may well be wearing green and gold next month.

    • Susan says:

      12:42pm | 22/07/12

      Very true re sponsors etc.  Obviously Wiggo winning as the first Brit rider to do it is worth noting of course but there’s nothing else at all existent about the Tour or any pro-cycling events being about national teams as such.  Greenedge have slipped that into their marketing this year but not all their riders are Aussie and people should recognise that.

    • stephen says:

      12:51pm | 22/07/12

      Well that is what you think about the winners and losers but what do the riders think ?
      I’m sure that there is a comraderie amongst riders who may be from Oz but ride for opposing teams.
      The Australian contingent in this Tour is called GreenEdge, and it is the first Oz Team in the Tour de France, (as far as I know.)
      They are not riding for the glory of their country, but as a group from one place they have a geography in common and such familiarities does not exclude the feelings a rider may have for a Team he may have ridden for, say, last year.
      Grouping people together into teams is a formation for team work ; it is not an emphatic judgement of type or politics.

      Besides, notice the scoreboard at the end of the stage for General Classification ; beside the rider’s name is the National Flag of country of origin.
      Nothing nasty about that, and if you are insulted, then best you refrain from The Games.

    • Susan says:

      02:08pm | 22/07/12

      My comment about Greenedge needs correction.  It’s been commentators like Mike Tomalaris who have built “aussie team” into their commentary regularly throughout this Tour.  ‘Aussie based’?  Whatever, the team is not all Aussie but we can be proud that a team establish in Australia has done so well in this Tour. And hats off too to Stuart O’Grady for stepping out of his former team and becoming so committed to advancing Greenedge.

    • Baz says:

      06:30pm | 22/07/12

      You forgot to mention that Team Sky got some help off the doctor…..i.e. the recruitment of the contraversial Dr Geert Lienders.

      Many TDF followers would say that Wiggins & co got quite a bit of help from this fellow…..

    • Susan says:

      07:46pm | 22/07/12

      Lienders isn’t with the Sky team at this Tour Baz.

    • Baz says:

      08:35am | 23/07/12

      I wouldn’t be saying he wasn’t helping…. but anyway, they are not publishing bio-passport data.  The lack of transparency is a very big worry.  Especially when the autobots (Rogers and Porte) are destroying the peloton up mountains.  Before, those two clowns couldn’t climb their way out of a paper bag, two now see them destroy the field makes this whole show look like a total farce.  Then you have Chris Froome, who after being ‘sick’ all year has come out of nowhere , and then wiggo who lost 8 kilos since his pursuit days, but has lost no power.  It all looks a little puzzling indeed. 
      Is it down to ‘marginal gains’ (i.e. hiring a swimming coach and stretching), or something else.  I don’t want to prick your bubble - but many think it’s that something else.

    • Gerry says:

      09:39pm | 22/07/12

      Check out the twitter war between Mrs Wiggins and Chris Froome’s girlfriend - no love lost between the two riders. Obvious that Froome thought he was capable of winning. As for Deiter, Team Sky was created by British Cycling - it is as close to a national team as any.

 

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