Stage 20 analysis: Brits storm Champs Elysées

Bradley Wiggins won the Tour de France in a triumphal final stage which also saw a scintillating sprint victory by Mark Cavendish

Words by Richard Moore

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Sunday July 22, 2012

The script might have been written by Dave Brailsford, the Team Sky principal, but it was what most people had predicted.

Bradley Wiggins, in his yellow jersey, departed from the usual routine of the overall winner who finishes in the middle of the peloton in the final stage, arms aloft. Instead, he was sitting on the front, piling on the pressure as they went under the two kilometres-to-go banner, in a bid to repay Mark Cavendish for his support, and the considerable sacrifice he has made, over the past three weeks.

Some imagined we might be treated, for the first time in this Tour, to the sight of a full Sky train on the final stage, as they raced up and down the Champs-Élysées. That didn’t happen. Michael Rogers played his part before Wiggins did his turn, and then, as they passed beneath the flamme rouge, Edvald Boasson Hagen took over.

Like on Friday, it seemed too early for Cavendish’s lead-out man to hit the front. But like on Friday, it didn’t matter. As Boasson Hagen began to tire, Cavendish jumped. It was 320 metres from the finish: an extraordinary distance to maintain a flat-out effort. Yet the world champion, despite providing his rivals with a perfect lead-out, held on and won convincingly to maintain his 100 per cent record on the Champs-Élysées. In four attempts, since his first Tour finish in 2009, he has won every time.

There have been rumours that Cavendish is unhappy at Sky, that he has been frustrated at the lack of opportunities to win stages, but this victory papered over any cracks and added gloss, at least for now.

“It’s been incredible,” he said at the finish. “We’ve come in with the aim of winning the yellow jersey. We got first and second on GC. We’ve won six stages as a team.

“It’s a very successful Tour for Team Sky. Maybe there would’ve been more opportunities for sprints, but we won six stages.

“We’ve raised the profile of British cycling and it’s been an incredible thing to be a part of. Today, winning on the Champs-Élysées was a big red cherry on top of a beautifully made cake. It was an honour to be part of it.”

Cavendish also revealed that he had planned to go at 300 metres. “I knew I could go long, especially with the wind today. It was a side-back crosswind. Last year it was a block headwind.

“You could go slightly early. I was going to go at 300 but we came around the last corner at such speed that I thought I’d just use my acceleration now and hopefully distance the other guys and hold on. It was a gamble, but it was one that paid off.”

For much of this Tour Cavendish and his team have been saying that he is in the form of his life, but the evidence – because of the lack of opportunities – was lacking. On Friday and Sunday, as he took his stages tally up to three in this race, 23 in total, he has proved that he will be a difficult man to beat in Saturday’s Olympic road race. “Everything’s on target,” he said. “I’m looking forward to next Saturday.”

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