Sports Personality of the Year: Why Bradley Wiggins should win
Each of the has an advocate explaining why they should win. Here, former Olympic gold medallist Chris Boardman puts the case for fellow cyclist Bradley Wiggins.
Most of us, come New Year's Eve, will look back with a glass in hand at some point and ask ourselves: "Was that a good year for me?"
For most of us too there will be nuances, disappointments and occasional regrets. But most of us did not take our in front of rabid home support, or play a key walk-on part in an Olympic opening ceremony a few miles away from where we were brought up.
Did Bradley Wiggins dare to dream, 12 months ago, that his 2012 might somehow turn out as it has?
For almost the entirety of its 99-race history, the idea that the Tour might be won by a Briton was not just far-fetched but never considered.
As a Kilburn kid studying the results in Cycling Weekly, pedalling across London to be schooled at the dilapidated Herne Hill velodrome or making his time-trial debut on the Hayes bypass, Wiggins was a product of an idiosyncratic British scene, obsessed with the Tour de France but living a life a hundred times removed from its glamour and prestige.
Even years later, a master of the boards and record-breaking Olympian, it seemed impossible he could emulate his hero, American three-time winner Greg LeMond, and win the thing.
No Olympic track gold medallist had ever gone on to win Le Tour. No champion of the track had ever looked at ease in the mountains. Few have made a chaotic war of a race appear such a procession.
"The whole year has been surreal," says Chris Boardman, one of the very few other Britons to have worn the Tour leader's yellow jersey, and an Olympic pursuit champion himself. "To have imagined a British winner of the Tour even two years ago was almost impossible.
"To go from where we were to having a British rider and team frankly dominate a sporting monument like the Tour - well, I never thought I'd see the day.
"[Team Sky boss] Dave Brailsford said it would happen, but he's a risk-taker. He said it almost as a challenge, but he's like a free climber in that regard. A free climber will always be the first to the top of the mountain, but there will be a big pile of them at the bottom who didn't make it.
"Bradley was constantly harried by Dave. They both thought about it 24/7 and fretted over every tiny detail."
If there are few shortcuts in sport, the only certainty in preparing for one of its toughest tests is that you must suffer.
Guided and cajoled by coach Shane Sutton and sport scientist Tim Kerrison, Wiggins - 23rd in 2010 after finishing third in 2009, each following Lance Armstrong's disqualification - took himself away into Tenerife's Mount Teide national park. It is 7,000ft above sea level, far from family, far from home, where he climbed the hard yards.
"The critical factor was when Brad finished fourth [since revised up to third in 2009]," says Boardman. "That was the point when you think to yourself: I actually believe this is possible.
"You go into another gear you didn't know you had. Everything takes a back seat to this challenge.
"Even then I'm not sure everyone believed him when he said he could win it, me included. When he finished fourth, tactically he couldn't have ridden any better. Physiologically he knew how to train; he had the best conditioning coaches in the world, and weight-wise he seemed to have nothing to lose.
"So where did the next step come from? He believed, and Dave believed. Bolstering the whole team around him made a difference - he had multiple captains on the road - but he became a superior rider."
Those lucky enough to have seats in the velodrome, or Olympic Stadium, or stands at Eton Dorney, will never forget the atmosphere they helped create. Yet there was something special about those events around the streets and through the parks where no tickets were required, where anyone who cared - and thousands and thousands did - could turn up with flags and facepaint and watch the Olympic carnival for free.
When Wiggins rolled down the start-ramp on that warm Wednesday afternoon in Kingston, he was pedalling into a tunnel of patriotic noise that would not abate until he returned, still flat over his time-trial bars, 50 minutes and 39 seconds later.
"Brad knew he had an opportunity that would only come around once in his lifetime," says Boardman.
"The Tour too is a curious thing; if you can survive it, it can leave you in the best form of your life. Your body reaches a peak, even though you've been on your knees.
"The hard work beforehand was dealing with the massive expectation. Once he was in the event, particularly with his nose in front, that crowd gave him a huge emotional response.
"He had memorised the script. But to be able to deliver on demand, on a specific day and time, is an extraordinary feat."
Neither was Wiggins's dominance restricted to the great triumphs that ended on the Champs-Elysees or in front of Hampton Court Palace, even if he rode in yellow for a remarkable 1,282 miles of the three-week Tour route.
During his hat-trick of victories at Paris-Nice, the Tour of Romandie and Criterium du Dauphine he wore the leader's jersey for 15 of the 21 racing days, a pre-eminence to leave rivals and competing teams choking in the Team Sky dust.
Despite that superiority he was equally never less than a team-mate, leading out sprinter Mark Cavendish twice in the Tour's final week and burying himself as part of the GB road race team that tried valiantly, yet vainly, to set Cavendish up for another sprint victory on the Mall two weeks later.
Success, many sportsmen claim, will not change them. With Wiggins you believe him.
Whether standing atop a team car in Paris and beginning his impromptu victory speech by pretending to read out some raffle numbers, lounging in those ludicrous Hampton Court thrones with a sardonic Churchill salute or turning up for the unveiling of next year's Tour route dressed like an extra from Blow Up, Wiggins is as only Wiggins could be.
"He is almost a reluctant winner," says Boardman. "I honestly don't think he realised what would come with his success.
"No sportsman dares think past the day of their big challenge, but now he can't go out for a meal because of the attention. He now knows you can't turn it off. That's a big price to pay."
On his bike in 2012, Wiggins held large parts of Britain in thrall. Off it, he amused and charmed. Even when out for a quiet ride near his Lancashire home last month he ended up making the front pages, after being knocked off his bike.
You have one great concern for him as this extraordinary year comes to an end: won't every subsequent one feel like an anti-climax?