LONDON (Reuters) - Britain’s BBC runs the country’s most recognised sports person of the year award and although it is only August 1, Tour de France and Olympic time trial champion Bradley Wiggins can pretty much mortgage his house on winning.
The fact fellow rider Mark Cavendish took last year’s award after being crowned world champion and winning the Tour points classification shows how huge cycling has become in Britain in a short space of time having once been seen as a minority sport.
“To be honest I said all year this was the plan. I think I’ve answered all the questions in the last six weeks,” Wiggins said on Wednesday after winning a British record seventh Olympic medal having previously claimed six on the track.
His time trial triumph came just over a week after becoming the first Briton to win the world’s greatest stage race, the gruelling three-week Tour, and helped cure Britain’s pain after favourite Cavendish failed to medal in Saturday’s road race.
A slow start to the London Games in terms of medals will be almost totally forgotten across the host nation now that Wiggins has lived up to all the hype in devastating fashion as he blew away the field just like he had on the Tour.
Wiggins was given the honour of ringing the Olympic bell to start Friday’s opening ceremony while erstwhile track team mate Chris Hoy carried the British flag into the stadium.
British athletes from sports thought of as more popular than cycling looked on with envy but more tributes to Wiggins’ immense work ethic will follow with the BBC award and possibly a knighthood.
“Bradley now deserves some recognition,” Dave Brailsford, Wiggin’s team boss on the Tour and in the Games, told reporters.
“The competition was way more fierce this time than it was in Beijing.”
A strong Beijing Games on the track following increased investment in British cycling has now transferred to the road with Lizzie Armitstead also taking silver in the women’s race on Sunday.
Wiggins and Armitstead, who also raced in the women’s time trial on Wednesday, can now finally let their hair down, or in his case his sideburns.
“I‘m still overwhelmed,” she told reporters.
“I don’t know if I have got the energy to party, suddenly it’s like a wave of tiredness has hit me but I‘m sure my chums will be pulling my ear and getting me out.”
Getting the British public out on their bikes to help combat growing obesity among the young was one of the aims of the state lottery investment programme in cycling.
Satellite broadcaster Sky, normally obsessed with football like the rest of Britain, has seen the potential of the sport and sponsors Wiggins’ professional team.
Even though Wiggins is 32 and does not plan to race on the road in the 2016 Olympics, the future is bright for Britain’s cyclists with Cavendish and Chris Froome, who finished second in the Tour this year and won bronze on Wednesday, both 27.
Editing by Greg Stutchbury