PARIS – Twenty-three years ago, Bradley Wiggins marveled as Greg LeMond blazed a trail as America’s first Tour de France winner. Now, he has blazed his own.
The 32-year-old from gritty northwest London became Britain’s first winner of cycling’s greatest race on Sunday, ending a 75-year drought for his country with an imperial conquest of the roads in cross-Channel neighbor France.
Wiggins had locked up the yellow jersey a day earlier by winning the final time-trial and Sunday’s ride onto the Champs-Elysees was largely ceremonial for him.
But putting the coveted shirt to work one last time, he added a touch of class by providing a leadout to Sky teammate and fellow Briton Mark Cavendish to get his third Tour stage victory – the 23rd of his career – in a sprint. The Isle of Man native is a main contender to win road race gold at the Olympics in London, which has been a hovering presence over the peloton in this Tour.
Wiggins congratulated his teammates after crossing the line, hugged his wife, and clutched the hands of their two children. A soprano sang “God Save The Queen,” and Wiggins thanked the crowd with a touch of British humor.
“Cheers, have a safe journey home, don’t get too drunk,” he quipped after hoisting the winner’s bouquet, with the Arc de Triomphe behind him.
“It’s been a magical couple of weeks for the team and for British cycling,” Wiggins said. “Some dreams come true. My mother over there, she’s now – her son has won the Tour de France.” Then, with a Union Jack around his neck like a scarf, Wiggins sipped champagne for the processional lap on the famed Paris avenue.
This Tour will be remembered for successes of other Britons too, such as all-rounder Christopher Froome, who was second overall, Cavendish and Scottish veteran David Millar – who won seven stages between them, a Tour record for Britain.
Italy’s Vincenzo Nibali rounded out the podium in third. France’s Thomas Voeckler won the polka-dot jersey for best climber, Peter Sagan of Slovakia took home the green jersey for best sprinter and Tejay van Garderen, a 23-year-old American, won the white jersey given to the best young rider.
It was a race of disappointment for Cadel Evans of Australia, who struggled in the climbs and failed to repeat his 2011 Tour victory. And a swan song for George Hincapie of the United States, who set the record of 17 Tour participations.