Richard Browne on yellow, green, and red, white, and blue.
Forget the Euros, forget Wimbledon, British sporting success is happening right now, and in spectacular fashion.
After week one of le Tour de France, a British cyclist, Bradley Wiggins, sits top of the yellow jersey standings by almost two minutes and another, Chris Froome (well, he’s really Kenyan, but on the leaderboard he’s marked as British, so we’ll go by that) is third.
Saturday’s Stage 7 saw Wiggins grab the Maillot Jaune as his Team Sky comrades wiped out most of the rest of the field on the climb up to La Planche des Belles Filles.
Only defending champion Cadel Evans managed to stay with Wiggins and Froome at the end, as Froome claimed the stage win and his team leader claimed yellow.
If Wiggins’ excellent position was earned by the dedication of his team, it was strengthened tenfold by his individual brilliance in the Stage 9 time trial to Besancon.
His time of 51’24’’ was almost a minute quicker than that of world time trial champion Fabian Cancellara – who won the Prologue time trial on the first day of this Tour with a storming ride of his own – and annihilated his main rivals for yellow. Evans now sits 1’53’’ adrift of Wiggins, and Vincenzo Nibali 2’23’’.
If that wasn’t enough, Froome made it a British/Sky one-two finish by coming in 35 seconds slower than Wiggins to move himself up into third overall.
Clearly there are two more weeks to go, with plenty more mountain climbs on the horizon, but Wiggins and his team sit in a formidable position. Evans is a dogged fighter and has the capability to ambush his rival in the Alps or Pyrenees, so Wiggins can never sit entirely comfortably in his saddle.
The first week has also given us substantial evidence of another major danger to the current yellow jersey holder. Crashes.
Sky have so far protected their man superbly, but the first nine stages – and Wiggins’ fate last year – showed that disaster can strike at the most unexpected of moments.
Crashes have been caused by such things as diesel oil on the road, idiot spectators standing in the road and riders carrying a change of shoes to their team leader. As the number of incidents grew, so has the nervousness within the peloton, making those incidents even more likely. It is a vicious circle (Surely vicious cycle? Ed.)
American Tyler Farrar fell off his bike four times in the space of five days and blamed everyone else, while Canadian Ryder Hesjedal, a contender for overall victory, had to withdraw injured.
Mark Cavendish has also fallen victim to accidents, even though he has not suffered serious injuries. The Tour’s fastest sprinter has won (just) one stage, being held up by crashes on some days and looking a fraction off-form on others. And in the mad world of bunch sprints, a fraction is everything.
In his place, we have witnessed the arrival of young Slovakian Peter Sagan, the winner of three stages so far and the wearer of the green points jersey.
Sagan, as likeable (mainly for his eccentric celebrations) as he is talented, does not have Cavendish’s flat-out speed, but is more of an all-rounder, so finishes with an uphill gradient do not deter him as they do some others.
He has, it is true, been lucky, dodging most of the aforementioned incidents to remain in contention for stage wins. But in cycling, as in anything, you make your own luck; Sagan has literally dodged the riders toppling ahead of him with superb control and composure.
So there’s your week one summary. The real mountain tests get well and truly underway in the next week, so don’t go switching off or assuming Wiggins has this whole race wrapped up. He has had a dream start, but le Tour is as fickle as it is fascinating, as he well knows.