BRADLEY Wiggins was today hailed one of this country’s greatest ever sportsmen after becoming the first Briton to win the Tour de France in its 109-year history.
The 32-year-old champion cyclist was cheered to the echo in a packed Champs Elysees after completing his 21-day mission with three minutes and 21 seconds to spare over his nearest rival.
There were wild celebrations back at Wiggins’ Wigan Wheelers cycling club, based at Wigan Cricket Club, Bull Hey, where the champagne corks had already been popping 24 hours earlier when a time trial victory had virtually cemented Bradley Wiggins’ victory.
Wiggins, who lives in Eccleston near Chorley, but recently referred to himself as a Wiganer, didn’t have time to wave to the crowds during the closing moments of the race because he was helping Team Sky colleague Mark Cavendish win the final sprint.
His Shevington-born wife Cath and children Ben and Isabella were among the first to congratulate him at the Paris finish line.
After the race, Wiggins said: “We had a mission to finish off the job and we did: job done! I am still buzzing from the Champs Elysees from each lap but the aim was to get a win for Cav and what a way to finish it off.
“I am trying to soak up every moment. It’s quite surreal – it’s the sort of thing that happens to other people not yourself. One day I will be able to look back on this properly.”
Union flags were much in evidence even before Lesley Garrett sang the national anthem as thousands of Brits had made their way to the French capital to see sporting history in the making.
Addressing the crowd in English, the ever self-effacing Wiggins first joked he was about to draw the raffle tickets! He then went on to thank the crowds for all their support and said it had been a “magical couple of weeks” for British cycling.
He said: “My old mother’s over there and her son has won the Tour de France! Have a safe trip home and don’t drink too much!”
In winning this year’s Tour, Wiggins not only fulfilled a life-long ambition but also sealed his place in the pantheon of cycling greats.
In three demanding weeks, he toiled over the Alps and the Pyrenees to complete the mammoth 20-stage, 2,173-mile race which was in its 99th year.
It is hard to over-estimate what Wiggins has achieved. He has gone from mastery of the short distances required on the track to being the victor of the longest endurance event of its kind.
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