Cavendish will get plaudits but World Championship victory belongs to Wiggins
It could easily have been a rehearsal speech for the BBC Sport Personality of the Year, albeit clad in lycra rather than a dinner jacket. Mark Cavendish, standing in front of countless cameras, making jokes about how he wanted to find his British teammate Geraint Thomas before the lightweight Welshman had a celebratory drink and forgot where he was. Cav, as everyone well knew, had just jumped off his bike, having summoned the energy to sprint to victory in the men’s World Road Cycling Championships in Copenhagen, the first time an Englishman had done so for almost half a century.
But for much of the day, the Manx Missile was a peripheral part of proceedings on the 266km course. His teammates, including Thomas, David Millar and the hulking Ian Stannard did all the legwork, executing a plan that Count Alfred von Schlieffen would have been proud of. It was a reliance on those around him that was most notable during eight long minutes towards the end of the gruelling course, when Cav’s destiny rested on the shoulders of his teammate Bradley Wiggins.
If you saw those eight minutes, as I did during the highlights of the race, you bore witness to one of the gutsiest (an overused word in sport but very much appropriate here) performances since Roger Federer needed two tie break to beat Rafa Nadal at Wimbledon in 2007. And not gutsy in the ‘putting up a valiant fight but ultimately failing’ sense. Gutsy when gutsy means ‘holding the world’s best at arms length and triumphing’. The best kind of gutsy.
For those eight minutes, Wiggins strained every sinew of his lean frame, as he led the train of riders, British immediately behind him, the dangerous Goss and Cancellara in turn behind them, towards the finish line. Setting an incredible speed, his legs found a metronomic pace and his face contorted into a controlled grimace, as if enforcing penance on himself for the collarbone injury that forced his retirement from this year’s Tour. As four minutes became five on the front of the peloton, Chris Boardman baulked at the 31 year old’s insistence to remain in control. It was a good 180 seconds of tortuous incline later that Wiggins passed on the baton, tucking in behind Stannard, knowing he’d done all he could and more.
This was life-affirming sport, like watching a bullied child quietly assert his authority over those who had previously made his life misery. And all from a man who four days earlier had earned silver in the time trial and who, more broadly, has had a immensely tough 18 months since overtraining and subsequently underperforming at the 2010 Tour de France. And although the double Olympic gold medallist may not end up with the Beeb’s glamorous sporting trophy come December, he has given me eight minutes of gritted teeth that will live long in the memory.