By Julien Pretot
HAMPTON COURT, England, Aug 1 (Reuters) – Bradley Wiggins basked in glory, and a bit of sun, as Britain’s most decorated Olympian after he hammered the field in awe-inspiring fashion to claim the London Games cycling time trial on Wednesday.
Wiggins, the first British Tour de France champion, surpassed rower Steve Redgrave’s record of six Olympic medals by snatching his seventh on home soil amidst scenes of joy around Hampton Court Palace.
His Tour victory just 10 days ago had already given a massive boost to his popularity in Britain. The man with the distinctive long dark sideburns was chosen to ring the bell at the start of the Olympic opening ceremony last Friday.
Winning an Olympic gold medal, his fourth, in London, will likely add to the Wiggomania.
Wiggins, who already had six track cycling medals, made a cautious start on the 44-km course starting and ending at Hampton Court Palace before powering home with an average speed of over 52 kph.
World champion Tony Martin of Germany took silver, a gaping 42 seconds behind, with Briton Chris Froome claiming bronze, 68 seconds off the pace.
A few hours after Helen Glover and Heather Stanning claimed Britain’s first London gold in the rowing pairs, Wiggins was in a class of his own, his perfect position on the bike unmatched by his rivals.
The powerful Martin was five seconds ahead of Wiggins at the first time check after 7.3 km, with Fabian Cancellara one second further behind in a close race with the top five riders within 10 seconds.
Luis Leon Sanchez’s hopes of a podium finish vanished after just a few seconds when the Spaniard had to change bikes following a chain snap on the start ramp.
By the second time check, after 18.4 km, Wiggins was 11 seconds up on Martin and 23 on Froome, after defending champion Cancellara of Switzerland had cracked following a strong start.
Cancellara suffered a bruised shoulder in the road race on Saturday and had pondered his participation until the last moment. After crossing the line fifth, he sat for a long time holding his right shoulder, his face a mask of pain.
The course snaked through suburbia, past the famous horse race track at Sandown Park, close to the rugby stadium at Twickenham and even near Chelsea Football Club’s training ground.
After crossing the line and walking towards the throne installed to welcome the race leaders, Wiggins got back on the bike, cycling on the course again, his arms raised in celebration.
He was quickly surrounded by dozens of fans before riding his way back towards the Palace, where he was awaited by his wife and two children.
Born in Belgium, Wiggins picked up his first Olympic medals in Sydney in 2000, where he took bronze in the Madison and team pursuit.
Wednesday’s gold made him the first rider to win Olympic time trial in the same year as the Tour. He also captured the Paris-Nice, Tour de Romandie and Dauphine stage races, making him the most versatile rider in cycling.