Is Bradley Wiggins Britain's greatest ever sportsman?

Jul 23, 2012

Or are we getting carried away by the tide of emotion that's greeted his victory in Paris?

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BRADLEY WIGGINS has been hailed as one of Britain's greatest ever athletes – if not the greatest - after winning the Tour de France. The 32-year-old, who grew up in Kilburn, north London, was crowned champion in Paris yesterday having led the race for almost two weeks.

As the Prime Minister offered his congratulations to the first ever British winner of the Tour, press and pundits have been quick to laud Wiggins's achievement.

"[It] is more than merely historic; it is monumental," gushed Matt Seaton in The Guardian. "For a Briton to win the Tour is as seismic, in its way, as it was for the first American to do so, [Greg Lemond] in 1986. Like the US, Britain has been until now an outsider in the 'world' of professional cycling – and Bradley Wiggins is our Greg LeMond."

Wiggins's triumph is "nothing less than a sporting miracle", declared Simon Barnes in The Times. "British cyclists in the Tour de France are a bit like French cricketers. It's not that they're not good, they're not supposed even to understand what's going off out there."

Fellow cyclist Chris Hoy was in no doubt about the magnitude of the win. "I think this will be the greatest achievement by any British sportsperson ever. That is a big claim, but I don't think you can overstate how hard it is to win the Tour de France. There is a reason why no one has done it from Britain so far," he said.

The Week contributor Neil Clark agreed. He told Radio 5 Live that the only real comparison was not with another sportsperson but a horse - Red Rum, who won the Grand National three times.

"I can't think of another major sporting event that we haven't won before," he added.

Martin Samuel in the Daily Mail wrote: "Taking it all into consideration, this is one of the greatest achievements in British sport, if not its summit. Its uniqueness, the making of history, the sheer physicality of the challenge, the decency of the champion, puts Wiggins up there."

The Telegraph reports that Wiggins is now in line to earn £5m in the next year, while many called for him to be awarded a knighthood.

But let's not get carried away, said James Lawton in The Independent. He called for some perspective and warned against the "slavish tendency to make the latest triumph the one that permits no serious comparison".

It was all very well to label Wiggins the greatest British sportsman ever, but it was "a little difficult to relegate some of the great cyclist's rivals to the minor places".

Wiggins will have a stronger case if he wins gold at the Olympics next week and with that in mind he has put his celebrations on hold so as not to jeopardise his chances in London. So, too, has the mastermind of his victory, Team Sky supremo Dave Brailsford.

In among the eulogies to Wiggins, Brendan Gallagher in the Telegraph paid tribute to Brailsford who, wearing his other hat, is today back in charge of the Olympic cycling team having delivered on his promise to win Le Tour with a British cyclist, two years ahead of schedule.

"He is a driven man and a courageous visionary," he writes. "He does not only dream big, he backs it up with long-term commitment and passion.

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I was a great achievemnet; the TDF is one of the world's toughest sporting events, but we shouldn't allowed ourselves to get carried away...after all, loads of foreigners have won it before!

Is not Sebastian Coe the 'greatest British Athlete', after all he did it on a world stage