Members of the team that helped propel Mark Cavendish to his world championship win in Copenhagen yesterday have been reflecting on their roles in a race that will be remembered forever by British cycling fans. The new world champion, meanwhile, was as ever full of praise for his team mated after a win that put the seal on a stellar 2011 for the Manxman, who also won the green jersey of Tour de France points champion after near misses in each of the preceding two years.
Yesterday’s victory, by half a wheel from his HTC-Highroad team mate Matt Goss, came at the end of a race in which the seven Great Britain riders supporting Cavendish each put in a Herculean effort to ensure that he was in contention to become only the second rider from these shores, after the late Tom Simpson in 1965, to win the men’s professional road world championship.
“I always say this, when my team rides all day, I have to finish it off,” Cavendish told the BBC’s Jill Douglas afterwards in an interview you can watch on the BBC website.
“We were left outnumbered there at the finish, other teams didn’t chase then they came, all attacking and we were left with just a couple.”
For a few anxious seconds for watching British fans, it looked as though Cavendish might be sent into the barriers as an American rider cut across him, and even after he had safely negotiated that it seemed like there was no way through for him with the line in sight.
“I had to kind of drop back and I knew Goss would be the right wheel to go on,” he explained. “I went a little bit earlier than I’d have to go but a gap opened and I had to take that opportunity… it’s incredible.”
In the post-race press conference, Cavendish described winning the rainbow jersey as “a dream come true.”
He went on: “I have won the green jersey in the Tour de France and won Milan-San Remo, but this jersey signifies the greatest thing I can get, really, I get to ride with the rainbow bands all next year and to wear them on the sleeves for the rest of my life.”
Cavendish’s big target for next year will be the road race at London 2012, though he was quick to put that race into the context of yesterday’s victory.
“As a British citizen, the Olympics are really a big thing that you want to win, but as a professional cyclist, it does not get much bigger than the Rainbow Jersey,” he insisted.
“I always said when I was younger that I wanted to be World Champion, the best in the World. I was World Champion in the Madison with Rob Hayles when I was 19, but these are the solid bands, so this is really a dream come true,” he continued.
“Today’s win is the accomplishment of several years hard work and preparation,” Cavendish added. “We started working on this win three years ago when the course was made public. We saw that it was probably the best opportunity we had to bring the rainbow jersey back to Great Britain for the first time since Tommy Simpson won it in 1965.
“So we worked with (national coach) Rod Ellingworth in getting together the right group of guys and to qualify as many guys as possible – this win is not just by the eight guys today it’s also of the 13-14 British Protour riders who secured the points to qualify such a big team for the race.”
Great Britain’s road captain on the day, David Millar – the sole non-Team Sky rider supporting Cavendish yesterday – told the BBC that being part of that line-up yesterday “is going to be like being part of the 1966 World Cup winning football team.”
He continued: “There’s been something special about the last few days. We knew something special was going to happen.”
Talking of the work the British team had put in, Millar said: “We didn’t back away from it. I decided from the beginning that we were just going to take control and there’s no point waiting or asking anybody else, there’s a big psychological bit of that as well.”
Geraint Thomas was Cavendish’s final leadout man yesterday, but his first thought was for the two men who had put in a huge effort to control the front of the bunch during the early part of the 266-kilometre race.
“The way the boys rode, Steve Cummings and Froomey… you can’t describe how strong they rode today, the whole team as a unit really, we were getting attacked on every lap, up every little drag, we stayed strong, we stayed together, it was incredible,” he said.
“We had trust, confidence and belief in each other, all we had to do was make sure that he [Cavendish] was in a decent position coming into that last corner, he’d do all the rest.”
Ian Stannard said it was “absolutely awesome” to have been part of the race and like Cavendish and others, he singled out for praise the man who should perhaps be viewed as the ninth member of the team – Rod Ellingworth, Cavendish’s personal coach, as well as a coach for British Cycling and Team Sky.
“It’s been a few years in the making,” added Stannard. “Rod’s really put in the groundwork for it so it’s really nice to finish it off.
The teamwork from Great Britain that made Cavendish’s victory possible didn’t go unnoticed elsewhere. Italy’s Sacha Modolo, who finished in the lead bunch of 82 riders – coincidentally, the biggest by far that has ever contested the finale of a world championship – told La Gazzetta delllo Sport: “We were like amateurs, they [GB] were professionals.”
Asked by Jill Douglas whether he’d had a chance to talk with any of his team mates, Cavendish revealed that he’d only managed to speak to David Millar and Geraint Thomas.
“I want to see them before they start drinking because obviously G will be on the floor if he starts already,” he smiled.
With Thomas tweeting that Mario, the team’s soigneur, had got six bottles of Champagne lined up in anticipation of the win, Bradley Wiggins perhaps put it best when he himself tweeted, “Cav wins, I think its safe to say tonight we are all going to get shitfaced.”
We’re guessing it was a good one, since Wiggins’ first tweet this morning was to bemoan a sore head and missing his flight , but after the immense last lap he put in on behalf of Cavendish yesterday he, like his team mates, thoroughly earned their big night out in Copenhagen.
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.