Bradley Wiggins says being voted 2012 BBC Sports Personality of the Year is possibly his greatest triumph.
He secured the BBC award from runner-up Jessica Ennis and Andy Murray in third after a public vote.
"To be ahead of Jess and Andy, it's probably my greatest sporting achievement," he said.
"The other stuff you can control, you can't control people voting for you."
Wiggins admitted he thought runner Mo Farah, a double Olympic gold medallist who finished fourth in the poll, might win when his own name was not among the first two read out.
More than 1.6 million phone votes were cast for the 12 shortlisted contenders.
The show, watched by a crowd of 16,000 at London's ExCeL Arena, marked a memorable sporting year where London hosted the Olympic and Paralympic Games.
The BBC award winner, dressed in a navy velvet suit, said he had been a fan of the Sports Personality show since he was a child.
"Sports Personality is a bit of an institution in our house and always has been. To win this it's very difficult to put into words," he said after receiving the award from the Duchess of Cambridge.
"It's incredible, and I'm very proud. It's something I certainly wanted to win."
Team Sky rider Wiggins said he would have voted for Paralympic wheelchair racer David Weir and was "starstruck" when he met him.
"The 12 nominees all achieved things in their own right. It was probably the most nerve-wracking thing of the year for me," said the first English winner since Zara Phillips in 2006.
"I was inspired as a 12-year-old watching [Olympic gold medallist and Tour stage winner] Chris Boardman and hopefully this year will have done the same for others."
Wiggins, who was born in Belgium, grew up in London and is now based in Lancashire, said he would let his grandmother have the trophy before putting it behind the bar at his local pub - the Farmers Arms in Eccleston.
He won his fourth career title, and a British record seventh medal, at the Olympics and London 2012 chief Lord Coe - himself the recipient of a lifetime achievement award - hailed sport's "rock star".
"He's more than just a fantastic ambassador. He's edgy and got that slightly risky feel to him," said Coe.
At the after-show party, Wiggins joined the house band on stage as he played guitar to songs by The Jam and Oasis.
He won the coveted award in a year where seven-times Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong was stripped of his titles for doping.
Dave Brailsford, named top coach for his work with Team Sky and Great Britain, said: "It's important that we can demonstrate you can win the biggest races clean and that is what Bradley is doing.
"He's a fantastic athlete who works extremely hard.
"What he did was quite remarkable. The series of wins he had this year was better than any other cyclist. If you add in the element of personality, then he certainly has that."
Aside from the Tour, where he wore the leader's yellow jersey for more than half the gruelling 3,500 kilometre route, Wiggins also triumphed at Paris-Nice, the Tour of Romandie and Criterium du Dauphine.
Olympic heptathlon champion Ennis, who was third in the 2009 and 2010 awards, praised the winner.
"Bradley was the favourite and it's incredible what he's achieved winning the Tour de France. You would never have thought a British man would do that," she said.
"To then go on and win Olympic gold medal in London, it's very well deserved.
"I'm biased and would love to have seen Mo in the top three but everyone deserved to be up there. It was a really tough decision."
When Wiggins arrived for the 59th year of the awards, he joked when a security guard blocked his path: "But I'm a nominee."
Not just a nominee, but a winner, albeit one who is not completely at home in the limelight.
While other contenders stopped, posed and chatted, he breezed past photographers and reporters on the red carpet.
"I find all the attention a bit hard. I'm nervous. It's an honour to be here, and I don't think I'll be up for the award again," he said.
Cavendish worked selflessly to help Wiggins win the Tour and said he hopes his friend and team-mate, who was ninth in the 2008 awards, will cherish the BBC prize.
"It's not something you can work towards. It's bestowed on you," said Cavendish.
"The public have given it to you and that has to be respected."
The main award was one of eight given on the night, with the honours dominated by the stars of London 2012.
Great Britain's Olympic and Paralympic squads were named joint team of the year, sprinter Usain Bolt claimed the Overseas Personality honour, while Paralympic swimmer Josef Craig took the Young Personality prize.
Martine Wright, who played sitting volleyball at the 2012 Paralympics seven years after surviving the London bombings, won the Helen Rollason Award in memory of the former BBC presenter.
Sue and Jim Houghton were given the Unsung Hero Award after setting up a community sports centre in Leicestershire.
Below are the results of the phone voting for the 2012 BBC Sports Personality of the Year main award:
Total votes: 1,626,718
1. Bradley Wiggins 492,064 (30.25%)
2. Jessica Ennis 372,765 (22.92%)
3. Andy Murray 230,444 (14.17%)
4. Mo Farah 131,327 (8.07%)
5. David Weir 114,633 (7.05%)
6. Ellie Simmonds 102,894 (6.33%)
7. Sir Chris Hoy 42,961 (2.64%)
8. Nicola Adams 35,560 (2.19%)
9. Ben Ainslie 35,373 (2.17%)
10. Rory McIlroy 29,729 (1.83%)
11. Katherine Grainger 28,626 (1.76%)
12. Sarah Storey 10,342 (0.64%)