LONDON (AFP) — The first Briton to win a stage in the Tour de France has paid tribute to compatriot Bradley Wiggins’s “fantastic” achievement in this year’s edition.
Barring some unforeseen accident, Wiggins is set to become the first Briton to win the grueling race when the final stage is run in Paris on Sunday.
Brian Robinson, 81, hopes to be among the crowd cheering Wiggins in the French capital, having become the first British rider to win a Tour stage back in 1958.
“It’s fantastic,” he said of Wiggins’s performance in this year’s Tour. “We never dreamed of this in my early days. We were scrubbing along at the back of the bunch.
“To go right through the bunch, if you like, and to get to the top by a Brit is great. It can’t get any better, can it?”
Robinson, who continues to ride in his hometown of Mirfield, West Yorkshire, in northern England, insisted modern cyclists did not have things easier than competitors of his era, despite improvements in bike technology.
“I don’t think so, no,” he said. “Riding the bike is riding the bike. No matter how good the bike is, you’ve still got to push it. You’ve got to work at it 100 percent and, sometimes, a little bit over.
“The facilities are easier and probably the infrastructure of the sport, but you still have to do it.”
As for Wiggins’s effort in leading the Tour, he added: “It puts British cycling at the top of the tree, really, which I’ve longed for for a long time.
“It’s been a long journey, but since we’ve got lottery funding that’s helped a great deal. And we’ve got the structure now to bring on our youngsters, which is another great thing.”
Robinson rode to Windsor, west of London, to watch the cycling at the 1948 Olympics with his brother Desmond and then competed in the road race at the 1952 Helsinki Games, where he came 27th.
Asked how Wiggins, already a three-time Olympic gold medalist, would fare at the upcoming London Games, Robinson said: “If he comes out of the Tour in good shape and gets a decent rest this week, he’s as good a chance as anyone, because most of the other riders have been in the Tour anyway.
“If Bradley comes out in good physical shape, gets a good rest and gets his head into shape, I see no reason why not.”
Robinson predicted a bright future for British cycling.
“In 1958 there was only sort of one of us that could ride the Tour at that time,” he said. “Now we’ve got 60 guys that can go into the Tour and give a good performance.”
Robinson added he’d spoken to Wiggins on the phone before, but missed saying hello to him at a charity event when he injured himself falling off his bike.
“I’m hoping to put that right this weekend,” he said. “But everyone else will be wanting to do the same thing.”