Sergey Ponomarev/The Associated Press
Sergey Ponomarev/The Associated Press
HAMPTON COURT, England
There was no more fitting place for Bradley Wiggins to end up than the former royal residence of Hampton Court Palace.
The 32-year-old Londoner completed his coronation as one of Britain’s top sports figures Wednesday by winning the gold medal in the men’s time trial at the London Olympics, just 10 days after becoming the first British rider to win the Tour de France.
It was Wiggins’ fourth Olympic gold – after three previous ones in track cycling – and gave him a British record seven over all. He had shared the mark of six medals with Steve Redgrave, although the rowing great won five golds.
After pedaling his way through a sea of flag-waving and sideburn-wearing fans toward Hampton Court and a gold that never seemed in doubt, Wiggins was ushered from the finish line toward a very fitting seat – one of three gilded thrones where the top finishers waited to see if they had won a medal.
Wiggins didn’t have to sit there for more than a few seconds, as the only remaining threat – Fabian Cancellara – was well out of reach of his time.
That’s not Wiggins’ type of setting anyway, so he jumped back on his bike and rode down the course again to share his victory with a more egalitarian crowd – his raucous supporters.
“I wanted to go and see my wife and all the people that had come to stand there on the roadside,” Wiggins said. “We all know about the Olympic ticketing. ... The great thing about cycling is it’s free to come and watch. All the real fans are out there, if you’re not lucky enough to come in and get a ticket. It was nice to go back out and roll up and down.”
Hundreds of thousands fans lined the course in southwest London as Wiggins rode in a sea of people dressed in red, blue and white – some of them even sporting the cyclist’s signature sideburns. He was greeted by his wife and two children as well as a crowd chanting “Wiggo! Wiggo!” after crossing the finish line at Hampton Court Palace on the banks of the River Thames.
Wiggins covered the course in 50 minutes, 39.54 seconds, beating silver medalist Tony Martin of Germany by a huge margin of 42 seconds. Tour runner-up Christopher Froome of Britain got the bronze.
Boulder’s Taylor Phinney finished fourth in 52:38.07, nearly 50 seconds behind Froome.
Kristin Armstrong of the United States won the women’s race, defending the title she won in Beijing.
“It’s been an amazing six weeks,” Wiggins said. “This was the plan. I’ve answered all the questions in the last six weeks. We’ve done it. To win another Olympic title in another event, it’s never, ever going to get any better than that. I realized on the podium, I don’t think anything is going to top that. Winning the Tour and then winning Olympic gold in London.”
Wiggins said the record number of medals wouldn’t nearly have meant as much if the seventh had been a silver or bronze.
“The most important statistic is No. 4, and not No. 7,” Wiggins said. “There was only one color (Wednesday), and anything else would have been consolation.”
Froome, who was Wiggins’ teammate at the Tour, was taken aback by the crowd support – even though cycling is enjoying an unprecedented wave of popularity in Britain.
“I almost expected (Wednesday) just to be like another stage at the Tour de France, with lots of people on the side of the road,” Froome said. “You just cruise past them. But it was something very different to that. Something I’ll never forget. They were not just cheering but screaming our names. It’s something I don’t think I’ll ever experience again.”
After breaking his collarbone in last year’s Tour, Wiggins came back stronger than ever and has nearly been invincible this season, especially in long time trials where he is unbeaten in 2012.
The time trial is often called the race of truth, and at the end, the strongest rider came out on top.
Wiggins was second-last of the 37 riders to roll down the start ramp and was second at the first time check, after 7.3 kilometers, trailing Martin by five seconds.
The flat nature of the course, taking the riders on narrow roads in Surrey, perfectly suited Wiggins, who carried his former pursuit specialist skills into his favorite discipline when he quit track cycling after the Beijing Games.
He stayed cool and kept going as he gradually stepped up the pace to post the best time at the second checkpoint, at the 18.4-kilometer mark, 11 seconds ahead of Martin.
Wiggins showed no sign of fatigue from Saturday’s road race and clocked the best time at the third intermediate before overtaking time trial specialist Luis Leon Sanchez of Spain, who had started the race 4:30 before the Briton.
Wiggins continued to pedal with rhythmic and aerodynamic discipline to become the first rider to win the Tour and the Olympic time trial in the same year, extending his already impressive run of successes this season.
A few minutes after Wiggins crossed the finish, Prime Minister David Cameron hailed him in a message posted to Twitter.
Wiggins “is a true British hero. First the Tour (de France) and now Olympic Gold,” Cameron wrote.
The Durango Herald, David Stringer and AP Sports writer Dave Skretta contributed.
Lefteris Pitarkis/The Associated Press