I’m loving the Tour de France. Yeah, the cycling’s good and, as the field heads into the mountains, it’s getting compellingly, leg-bustingly, lung-sandpaperingly gruelling, but what about Bradley Wiggins and his sideburns? What about the Bradburns? The Wigboards? Sure, he’s British, he’s the favourite to win the world’s premier test of man and bike, of super-fitness, mega-stamina, of peloton-finessing and pedal-power, but how refreshing, asides from all that, it is to see a sportsman channelling the vibe of the 1970s in all its back-combed, tattooed, unreconstructedly sideburned glory.
The name “Bradley Wiggins” also sounds as if it’s from 1970s Britain, reminding one of Ford Cortinas full of Skol-fancying darts teams, strikers-in-flares and Nottingham Forest kicking European Cup arse. Wiggins stands as the figurehead of a growing breed of sportsmen who look, if not un-sporty, then sporty in a way that hasn’t been common currency since the early days of the 1980s. The poster boy for this breed of sportsman is former England cricketer Ian Botham, as photographed immediately after his buccaneering, Ashes-winning innings at Headingly in 1981. There he is in the dressing-room, batting pads still on, sweat on the brow furrowed from exhaustion and concentration, lighting-up and puffing on a big old cigarillo. It’s a bit Flashman, a bit village amateur and just what we need a bit more of in this Lycra-trussed, ultra-branded, protein-shake-chugging Olympic year.
Wiggins, too, seems like the sort of chap who might not be un-prone to a gasper and a pint of mild after a hard day in the saddle. Bradley looks like he should be pedalling in flares. Any sportsman who looks like he should be peering out from behind a lamppost in a moody-ish band group portrait from the NME in 1975 might as well be moonlighting as an occasional drummer for Rod Stewart’s legendarily boozy and badly behaved backing band, the Faces.
Because the thing is, Bradley Wiggins looks like a man, rather than a sportsman. Despite being fitter and leaner than an Olympic racing-snake he’s not muscle-bound, humourless, overgroomed (save the ‘burns), PR-cosseted or laboriously cliché-toting. Telling it like it is isn’t something over-controlled sportsmen do these days, so it’s exceptionally refreshing to hear Wiggins describe certain armchair critics as “fucking wankers”. It might not be a felicitous phrase but it’s sure as hell refreshing when it’s coming from the mouth of a man who might well win this year’s Tour de France.
They’re still out there, a few of these chaps who don’t feel they need to slim down their personality as they build-up their muscle mass. And there are still the sportsmen who just appear as if they somehow belong in a lost decade. Andy Murray, despite being in the talent-stable of super-agent Simon Fuller, looks like a boyish man who’s somehow great at tennis, rather than a slickly produced one-man brand. Frankly, Murray looks like he should be waving a wooden racket, playing with white balls and chugging on a nice glass of Robinsons Barley Water in the break (possibly with a twist).
So here’s to them, those men who fuse talent, graft and skill with a nod to the rebellion and beautiful transgression that sport often puts into deeds, if not words. Here’s to the Bradburns, the Wigboards, Andy’s 1970s teeth and to victory, as brought to you by the spirit of Hofmeister lager and Benson & Hedges.