We may not know who Mark Cavendish will be riding for next season, but we know what jersey he'll be in, and it carries the rainbow bands across the chest. The 26-year-old is the new world road race champion after somehow finding his way through the traffic to win a thrilling climax to the World Championship road race in Copenhagen this afternoon. Matt Goss of Australia finished second, with Germany's Andre Greipl edging out Switzerland's Fabian Cancellara in a photo finish for third. Cavendish's win followed a day on which his Great Britain team mates put in a huge effort to ensure he was in a position to contest the finale.
Immediately after winning a hectic finish to the 266-kilometre race, Cavendish, who becomes only the second British professional to win the title since the late Tom Simpson in 1965, said there “couldn’t be any other result” after the way his colleagues, six from his rumoured future employers, Team Sky, plus his boyhood hero, David Millar of Garmin-Cervelo, had worked for him.
Speaking before he was presented with the rainbow jersey that together with the green Tour de France points jersey was one of his two goals for the year, the 26-year-old added that the project had been three years in the making, with Copenhagen identified well in advance as being a course particularly suited to him.
This time last year, Cavendish didn’t figure in the race in Geelong in which he was supported by just two fellow British riders, but he singled out the efforts that other British riders had made during the 2011 season in racking up UCI WorldTour ranking points to give him as many supporting riders as possible today.
While only Cavendish will get to wear the rainbow jersey next year, each of those seven riders who supported him today will forever own a part of it, from Steve Cummings, who put in an unstinting effort at the front of the peloton in the early part of the race, to Bradley Wiggins, who almost single handedly pulled the main bunch along to close down a four-strong escape group in the final lap.
David Millar, Jeremy Hunt and Chris Froome all played their part in a supreme team effort throughout the race, and Ian Stannard and Geraint Thomas were there to try and lead out Cavendish in what proved to be a hard fought finale, the sprinter ten riders back as the leaders shot round the final bend.
Squeezed onto the barriers on the right and then blocked behind Lars Boom, Cavendish managed to find the gap to come through and pip his HTC-Highroad team-mate Goss on the line as the Australian threatened to close him down.
With former colleague Greipel, the US trade team’s other star sprinter ahead of his switch to Omega Pharma Lotto for the 2011 season, completing the podium, the race in a way provided a final flourish for the graduates of Bob Stapleton’s outfit.
Cavendish’s victory, however, was very much one that bore the stamp, ‘Made in Britain,’ and one achieved, perhaps not coincidentally, in a jersey bearing the name of British Cycling’s sponsor – Sky.
Ahead of today’s race, it had been clear that while Great Britain’s ambitions of getting Cavendish into the rainbow jersey lay in ensuring that it came down to a bunch finish, other countries with more attacking riders, such as Belgium with world number one and pre-race favourite Philippe Gilbert, would be looking to attack and break up the field.
Shortly after the the start – theoretically a neutralised 28 kilometre ride out to the beginning of the 14-kilometre closing circuit that would be lapped 17 times during the course of the day – seven riders got away.
That group comprised Anthony Roux of France, Kazakhstan’s Maxim Iglinksy, Pablo Lastras form Spain, the Luxembourg rider Christian Poos, Estonia’s Tanai Kangert, Oleg Chuzda of Ukraine and Croatia’s Robert Kiserlovski. They would stay out in front for most of the race, at one point building a lead of eight minutes.
If Great Britain, and other countries pinning their hopes on a sprint finish including Germany and Australia, were happy to see those seen head off up the road, less welcome were attacks from riders of the calibre of Italy’s Giovanni Visconti and Belgium’s Johan Van Summeren.
As the peloton tried to chase those and other attacks down hard – the race would be characterised by a frantic pace throughout – a crash with five and a half laps left brought down some big name riders including Luxembourg’s Frank Schleck and Belgium’s Greg Van Avermaet, and also put an end to Thor Hushovd’s hopes of retaining his title.
Though not directly involved himself, the Norwegian was held up and none of those who went down in the crash or who were caught up behind it would be able to rejoin the main bunch.
Up ahead, several riders including France’s Yoann Offredo and Italy’s Luca Paolini, as well as Paris-Roubaix winner Van Summeren, had managed to bridge across to the lead group, but the catch seemed inevitable.
With a main bunch that had been reduced to a little over 100 riders fast continuing to make up ground on the leaders with a couple of laps to go, Great Britain as ever leading the chase, Roux attacked his fellow escapees.
The Frenchman was never going to stay clear, but next it was one of his compatriots, Thomas Voeckler, who attacked as the peloton bore down, giving his team mate a pat on his back as he rode past, followed by Nicki Soresen from Denmark and Belgium's Klaas Lodewyck.
That trio had a lead of 17 seconds as the bell sounded to herald the final lap, the Danes in a huge crowd lining the finishing straight going wild as Sorensen rode by.
Behind, Wiggins led the chasing bunch of 100 riders across the line, his Great Britain team mates tucked in behind him, Australia also prominent as they sought to keep Goss’s hopes alive.
Even at this point, a sprint finish was by no means a certainty, with Dutch rider Johnny Hoogerland managing to get across to the trio out ahead and raising the possibility that the group might just stay away.
However, it was fitting that it would be Cavendish, someone so quick to praise his team mates after crossing the line ahead of his rivals, who would clinch victory on a day when Great Britain put in a team performance par excellence.
Cavendish’s win gave Great Britain its second gold medal of the championships following Lucy Garner’s in the women’s junior road race.
It also means that Copenhagen 2011 finishes with Great Britain top of the medals table, with Wiggins and Emma Pooley taking silver and bronze, respectively, in the elite men’s and women’s time trials, Elinor Barker clinching silver in the junior women’s time trial, and Andy Fenn getting bronze in the men’s Under-23 road race.
2011 UCI Elite Men's Road Race World Championship Result 1 Mark Cavendish Great Britain 5:40:27 +0 2 Matt Goss Australia All at same time 3 Andre Greipel Germany 4 Fabian Cancellara Switzerland 5 Jurgen Roelandts Belgium 6 Romain Feillu France 7 Borut Bozic Slovenia 8 Edvald Boasson Hagen Norway 9 Oscar Freire Spain 10 Tyler Farrar USA 11 Denis Galimzyanov Russia 12 Peter Sagan Slovakia 13 Anthony Ravard France 14 Daniele Bennati Italy 15 Rui Costa Portugal 16 Manuel Cardoso Portugal 17 Philippe Gilbert Belgium 18 Michael Morkov Denmark 19 David Veilleux Canada 20 Grega Bole Slovenia
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.