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London – Bradley Wiggins made a low-key return home Monday after his historic Tour de France win, even as Britain looked forward to the cyclist leading the country to more success at the London Olympics.
The 32-year-old and his wife Cath were seen leaving their home in Eccleston, a village in the northern county of Lancashire, just one day after he became the first Briton in history to pedal to victory in the race.
Wiggins, wearing sunglasses and a black T-shirt, and with his trademark bushy sideburns on display, drove off in a black Mercedes without speaking to waiting journalists.
But while he chose to stay quiet about his achievement as Britain's first Tour de France winner, his countrymen were quick to hail it.
“In terms of individual sporting achievements, I am struggling to think of a better one,” Britain's Olympics Minister Hugh Robertson said.
Robertson also said that British cycling chiefs believe that Britain's success in the 2008 Beijing Olympics encouraged half a million people to take up cycling, and Wiggins' victory could give the sport a similar lift.
Jonathan Edwards, who won gold in the triple jump at the 2000
Sydney Olympics, said it was “one of the best (achievements) of all time by a British sportsman”.
Wiggins said after the race that he was now completely focused on the Olympics, in which he will compete in the men's road race and the individual time trial.
“If I'm 100 percent honest, it's gold or nothing in London now, really,” Wiggins declared. “That's the way I'm treating the next nine days.
“I can't sit here and say I'll be happy with a silver or happy with a bronze,” he added.
Wiggins admitted that adding to the three gold medals he has already accumulated at the 2004 and 2008 Olympics would not necessarily top his Tour win, which he described as the “greatest day of my sporting life.”
He moved from London to Eccleston, where he lives with his wife and their children Ben and Isabella, to be closer to the Manchester Velodrome where British Cycling is based.
The quiet village is a far cry from the media circus of the past few days.
Images of his victory parade on the Champs Elysees in Paris were splashed across the front pages of Britain's press, who were unanimous in saying the cyclist now firmly belonged in the pantheon of British sporting greats.
Many said Wiggins could now expect to be honoured with a knighthood for his achievement while some reports speculated he may also now enter the frame as the man to light Olympic flame at Friday's opening ceremony.
“Wiggo hailed UK's greatest sportsman,” tabloid The Mirror ran across its front page.
Popular tabloid The Sun said “a new British hero” had been immortalised, comparing Wiggins to cricketer Ian Botham, footballer Bobby Moore and Olympic rowing legend Steve Redgrave.
The Daily Mail led with “£20m and a knighthood next for wonderful Wiggins,” echoing calls for the three-time Olympic gold medalist to be honoured by the queen.
Meanwhile, The Daily Star called for Wiggins to light the Olympic flame at Friday's ceremony, although he is due to compete in the men's road race the following day.
The Times, which carried a souvenir cover celebrating the “Promenade des Anglais”, said Wiggins had “proved to be a great champion of British sport. He has also shown himself to be a fine man.”
Wiggins has become something of a cult figure for his plain speaking and also for his adherence to the “Mod” subculture, a British movement from the 1960s focusing on scooters, sharp fashion and music.
Richard Moore, the author of “Sky's the Limit”, a book on British cycling, said Wiggins had helped to change the sport's image in the country.
“Oddballs – that was traditionally the classic loner cyclist,” he told BBC radio.
“In the UK cyling was seen as a very exotic, foreign sport, the riders spoke foreign languages, it was rooted in France and Belgium and Belgium, and (they wore) funny shorts and fuuny clothes.”
He added: “There was a huge Beijing effect after the Beijing Olympics when British cyclists were dominant, and I think this is even bigger and I think this seems to have really captured people's imagination.” – Sapa-AFP