Out this morning for a pre-Wiggo-triumph two-hour ride through small French towns and villages, I popped into a little bike shop to get a few bits and bobs.
Bradley Wiggins’ yellow helmet took pride of place in the helmet stall. Black socks were doing better than usual. And despite the hefty price tag, the shop owner Jean-Christophe told me Pinarello was selling better than any other brand. ‘He has been very good for business.’
There is something about Wiggins’ directness, his love of the history and traditions of the Tour de France, his quirkiness and what John-Christophe called ‘le look rock and roll’ that has endeared him to the French, normally somewhat suspicious and resentful of British success.
I hope that the British government and the underestimated sports industry are as seized of the economic potential of today and what follows as Jean-Christophe. The one piece of the Olympics jigsaw I really worry about is legacy, and that is because I am not convinced this Prime Minister and this government really get sport and the contribution it can make to economic policy, education policy, crime policy, health policy.
The Olympics, despite the cost, has already made its contribution to the economy and to Britain’s standing in the world. God knows how much worse the unemployment figures would have been without them. But there is so much more to come if the potential of the Games is harnessed properly. Wiggins’ win today is the perfect way to set up the Games. One of the first big events is the road race, where Mark Cavendish has a great chance of gold, which would create just the mood for success that the country will be hoping for. Then we will be into what should be two and a half of the greatest weeks of our lives.
But legacy means taking that success and using it as the platform for something enduring, something which changes the country for the better and for good, really puts sport at all levels at the heart of what we are as a nation. It is hard to see the commitment of the government when there has been such a spectacular fall in competitive sport in state schools as a result of their cuts.
A few months ago, after discussion with some of the key people involved in the delivery of the Games, who shared the concern re legacy, and wanted to pick my brains about how to influence the government machine, I sent a long note to Number 10. I put forward a number of proposals on legacy, up to and including the elevation of sports minister to Cabinet level at least for the time it takes to ensure the sporting legacy of the Games is secured. Despite prodding from me and from others, I have yet to receive a reply.
But if the government sees the Olympics and Paralympics purely as two amazing sets of events that have to be well-run and create a short term global buzz out of London, they will be missing a massive opportunity.
Today Wiggins will become the first Brit ever to win the Tour. To my mind, it is as big as a football or rugby or cricket World Cup. But his celebrations will be brief, because he will have to get his head immediately in shape for the different challenge and the different role he will play at the Olympics.
Government ministers need that same mindset. They should be thinking that it is when The Games are over that the hard work begins. I think sports minister Hugh Robertson does a good job. But little I have heard or seen from those above him, up to and including the man at the top, suggests to me they really get the opportunity for Britain that is opening up.
Climate change denier Nigel Lawson was on the airwaves recently urging David Cameron to ape Thatcher not Blair in his style of leadership. He would do better to try to learn from the leadership of British Cycling supremo Dave Brailsford. Have a vision. Set clear objectives. Build a team and develop the strategy to meet them. Then work your balls off. Cameron scores poorly on all counts.
It is not too late to save the Olympics legacy. And today, one of the best and biggest days in our sporting history, is a fine place to start.