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Wiggins poised to end British wait

Only a few years ago, the chances of a Briton winning the Tour de France looked as remote as seeing a French team win the cricket World Cup.

other Updated: Jul 21, 2012 23:27 IST

Only a few years ago, the chances of a Briton winning the Tour de France looked as remote as seeing a French team win the cricket World Cup.

Now after 99 editions of the race without a Briton in the top three, Bradley Wiggins is poised to win it with compatriot Chris Froome on course for second while world champion Mark Cavendish has logged his 22nd career stage victory in the race and is eyeing a fourth successive win on the Champs Elysees.

The trio ride for the predominantly British Team Sky which have quickly established themselves as the dominant force in cycling.

There have always been British riders but although history notes that a James Moore won the first road cycling race in 1868 in France, cycling was one of those rare sports Britain did not invent and spread around the world.

Part of the reason for the country's long wait for a Tour champion lies in the history of the sport - while road races in bunches developed early in continental Europe, Britain tended to favour time trials and record attempts by a lone rider from one town to another.

As a result, the country produced brilliant time trial specialists like Chris Boardman, David Millar and even Wiggins rather than grand Tour riders.

There were exceptions, naturally, like sprint ace Barry Hoban, who collected eight Tour stages between 1967 and 1975, or Scottish climber Robert Millar, the King of the Mountains in 1984 which was the year he finished fourth overall.

That was the best final standing by a Briton in the Tour, matched by Wiggins in 2009, until this year.

There was also Beryl Burton, who from the 1950s won over 90 domestic championships, seven world titles, and whose 12-hour time trial record exceeded the men's for two years.

Another explanation for such a late achievement might be the shock of Tom Simpson's death on the Ventoux in 1967, a trauma for the sport which has marked British cycling.