Even the French are quite pleased Bradley Wiggins has won the Tour de France.
The 32-year-old Londoner yesterday became the first Briton to win cycling’s most prestigious race, managing what no Frenchman has done since 1985. His Team Sky teammate Chris Froome made it a 1-2 for Britain, which had previously failed to produce a rider that finished in the top three.
The Amaury family, which owns the Tour de France, is seeking to boost sales after six years in which doping scandals turned backers away from cycling. Wiggins, who has denounced cheating, is helping to make the race more popular abroad, according to Jean-Etienne Amaury, the president of the family’s sports unit Amaury Sport Organisation, or ASO.
“We’re very happy that the English are doing well,” said Amaury, whose family has owned the Tour since 1947, in an interview. “The race is getting more and more popular in the English-speaking world.”
Once dominated by a small group of countries including France, Belgium and Spain, the Tour de France had its first winner from the U.S. when Greg LeMond won in 1986 and first from Australia last year when Cadel Evans triumphed. The last French winner was Bernard Hinault 27 years ago.
“Many more American, Australians and English have started coming to the Tour the last five to 10 years,” Amaury, 35, said at the Peyragudes ski resort where the July 19 stage finished. English cycling enthusiasts are also flocking to L’Etape du Tour, an amateur one-day race ASO arranges to coincide with the Tour de France, Amaury said.
Floyd Landis of the U.S. failed a drugs test in winning the 2006 Tour de France, as did Spain’s Alberto Contador in 2010. Luxembourg’s Frank Schleck quit the race last week after testing positive for a banned diuretic. He denies doping.
Each case sets professional cycling back, Pat McQuaid, the president of ruling body Union Cycliste Internationale, said in a recent interview in Aigle, Switzerland.
“Every time there’s a major doping scandal there are many sponsors that say no,” McQuaid said. Prospective sponsors pulled out on the day Contador’s positive drugs test was announced, according to McQuaid.
The net income of Paris-based ASO, which also manages sports events including the Dakar rally and Paris marathon, remained little-changed at about 32 million euros ($38.9 million) between 2006 and 2010, company filings show.
The Tour gets about 60 percent of its revenue from television rights, with most of the rest coming from sponsorship and fees from municipalities that host the start and finish of stages. Yorkshire, England, is vying to host the start of the race in 2016.
If the French are happy about Wiggins, the English are ecstatic. Brian Robinson, who was the first British rider to win a Tour de France stage in 1958, said he had written Wiggins a note of thanks.
“It’s what we’ve all wanted,” Robinson, 81, said by phone from his home in Yorkshire. “I can’t find the words to say what it means.”
Alex Rosen, who runs a marketing company from London, said he had traveled to Paris in a five-car convoy with a group of friends from a mountain-biking vacation in the Alps to witness the victory.
“It’s once in a century,” Rosen, 31, said at the race finish on the Champs Elysees yesterday. “When was the last time England won something?”
Wiggins, a three-time Olympic gold medalist in track cycling, was fourth with U.S. team Garmin at the 2009 Tour. He finished 24th with Team Sky in 2010 and didn’t complete last year’s race because of a broken collarbone. As race leader the last two weeks, Wiggins denounced doping after being asked about drug rumors in cycling.
In a July 13 blog in the Guardian newspaper, Wiggins said he put the uniform of his former team, Cofidis, in the bin at Pau airport after it quit the 2007 race amid a doping scandal involving its rider Cristian Moreni. He wrote he would rather stack supermarket shelves than dope.
Wiggins, who speaks fluent French after riding for Cofidis and other French teams for six years, also won plaudits for respecting race etiquette. French television dubbed him ‘Le Gentleman’ when he slowed to wait in a July 15 stage as defending champion Evans had three punctures from tacks thrown on the road by saboteurs.
The French are more gracious than the British when it comes to sports, Robinson said.
“They appreciate the sporting qualities of riders much more than we do,” Robinson said.