A British encore in the Tour de France. Not even a sniff of winning the yellow jersey for 99 years, now we have two in quick succession.
A number of writers are already suggesting that alongside Murray, the Lions, Justin Rose and a 2-0 lead in the Ashes plus Team GB third in the 2012 Olympic Medals Table all this amounts to 'winning' becoming a big part of British national identity. But what nation are we talking about exactly ? In a wonderful sentence that must have taxed the skills of the sub-editors at the Guardian the complexities and contradictions of British sporting success were summed up as follows :
" It would make Chris Froome the second British cyclist to win the jersey. History beckons the quiet Kenyan."
Chris Froome, born In Kenya where he spent his childhood, first representing his country at the Commonwealth Games, educated in South Africa, wins the Tour de France as a Brit. With his right-hand man from Team Sky on the road, the Aussie Richie Porte.The same kind of mixture applies to almost all of British sporting success stories. England's cricket team is actually England plus Wales, not to mention more than a handful of batsmen and bowlers who could just as easily represent South Africa. Sport's version of economic migrants except their search for a better life delivers a salary of millions and heroic status rather than at best a living wage and ritual demonisation. Andy Murray, Britain's first Wimbledon men's champion since Fred Perry in 1936, or Scotland's first since Harold Mahony in 1896? Rugby's Lions complicate matters still further by not only temporarily uniting in one team the fiercely independent rugby home nations of England, Scotland and Wales. But by adding Ireland too as one country ending the division that still defines Irish politics, north and south of a border that rugby wipes off the map.
Success on Two Wheels
What does 'British' cycling success add up to? A mix of the public and private. It was state funding that first helped deliver the years of Olympic track cycling success, from Athens 2004 onwards in particular . The Gold medal haul was quite extraordinary with absolute dominance at Beijing 2008, sprint and endurance events, men and women. Repeated once again at London 2012, with a new generation fast emerging to replace those retiring, Victoria Pendleton and Chris Hoy. Success that led to the ambition to translate this into winning the Tour de France. A full-time professional team, sponsored by Sky though whisper this quietly in quite un-Murdochian fashion this is a sponsorship that has a benevolence quite unlike most corporate involvement in sport. ' From the podium to the park' is an imaginative approach in association with British Cycling, focussed on local mass participation Sky Rides. Yes of course there is Sky branding all over the events but the essence of the message, connecting elite success to easy-to-access, informal participation which is predominantly recreational and non-competitive is hard to fault.
England's fading football glories look unlikely to be restored at World Cup 2014. Summer age group tournaments rarely attract much coverage but the failure of the Under 21 and Under 20 sides to even get out of their groups at their 2013 tournaments have added to the felling that things can't only get better. Even the women's side who up to now had been enjoying a rising level of success failed to win a match at their Euro 2013. However international football has one significant advantage over these other sports. Its on the TV all-year round, and international football is on prime-time terrestrial TV, BBC 1 or ITV. Cricket's selling off of the Ashes to Sky, Rugby doing the same with the Lions, cycling shunted off to ITV 4 , all have significantly eroded their impact as a national moment. Wimbledon is different,, its on BBC 1, yet tennis only achieves any kind of media profile for that one fortnight a year. A more pluralistic sports media would not only help to undermine the worst excesses of the commercial monster that modern football has become it would help these other sports play a more effective societal role in terms of the impact they can make. Cycling is the key to any connection that might be made between participation and elite success, what other 'sport' can you do as a way of getting to work or going to the shops. As a family day out, for a good cause or if you fancy testing yourself, a 100-mile century ride.
In the past three weeks on the roads and up the mountains of France perhaps an opportunity has been starting to unfold. The greatest cycling race in the world, which in its centenary edition remains defiantly French in every detail of its character and organisation , is becoming a part of our British sporting summer too. An embrace of its vocabulary, its history and culture the kind of popular Europeanism largely absent in Westminster bubble politics, defined by the people of Europe not its democratic-deficit institutions. A British love affair with the Yellow Jersey perhaps the beginnings of an effective counter to the little Englanderism of UKiP's isolationism masquerading as so-called independence. Parlez-vous le cycling?