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Six-shooter

The Tour de France is a race steeped in tradition, and yesterday’s 21st and final stage into Paris was no exception.

As is traditional, Astana, the team of the maillot jaune Alberto Contador, led the way onto the Champs Élysées. As is traditional, a breakaway launched itself off the front of the pack shortly after. And, as has become traditional during the 2009 edition of the Tour, Mark Cavendish won the sprint.

As if there was ever really any doubt.

The ‘Manx Missile’ contested six finishes at this year’s Tour and won them all, bringing his career total in this race alone to ten. Add that to his three stages at May’s Giro d’Italia and his win in the Milan-San Remo one-day classic, and he has already had a more successful 2009 than the majority of professional cyclists have careers.

Yesterday’s win on the Champs Élysées was the one Cavendish has been most coveting all along, and it was the easiest of the lot. Despite Garmin’s concerted, and initially successful, attempt to disrupt the Columbia HTC lead-out train in the closing kilometres, Cav’s more experienced team was still able to take prime position in the final kilometre. Big George Hincapie drove them into the Place de la Concorde where Mark Renshaw took over; Garmin’s Julian Dean, attempting to pilot Tyler Farrar into a position to challenge, tried a desperate kamikaze move to cut in front of Renshaw across the inside of the final bend but succeeded only in disrupting everyone else; Renshaw towed Cavendish unchallenged to the line to the extent that, easing up, he was able to finish second himself, and Cav kicked down for the sheer joy of it to win by around thirty metres – the equivalent of Usain Bolt’s astonishing winning margin at the 100 metres in Beijing.

Afterwards, Cavendish was predictably ecstatic with his day’s – and his three weeks’ – work. “I said all along I wanted to win on the Champs Élysées and the feeling doesn’t disappoint. Every sprinter in the world dreams of crossing the line with their hands in the air on the Champs Élysées, and I wanted this so bad. I came here wanting to win as many stages as possible. I said I would have been content with one stage and reaching Paris, and I’ve done that and we can go home and be so happy with what we’ve done here. We’ve had a beautiful three weeks.”

And he went on to put the final full stop on his post-Besançon spat with Thor Hushovd, having already publicly apologised to him on Friday and joining him in a strictly-for-laughs mock sprint for 104th place at the top of Mont Ventoux yesterday. “Everybody knows I mouth off when I’m upset. It’s the mentality of the sprinter: you get upset in the heat of the moment, but when you have time to reflect on it you see you’re in the wrong. [Thor] is a great, great guy on the bike and off the bike. We’ve always got on well and to fall out over something so silly, it’s not really worth it.”

With yesterday’s win, Cavendish becomes the first rider to claim six stages in a single Tour since Bernard Hinault won seven in 1979. After a race in which only one other stage – the sixth, to Barcelona, won by Hushovd – was claimed by a fellow green jersey sprinter, and having dominated last year’s sprints as well, Cav can already stake a claim to being right up among the sport’s greatest fast men, which would see him rubbing shoulders with sprint deities such as Freddy Maertens and Mario Cipollini. That’s pretty exalted company to be keeping.

Forget about Andy Murray. Never mind Jenson Button or Lewis Hamilton. Here we have a Brit who is quantifiably, indisputably the best in the world at what he does. That is a cause for major celebration.

And, better still, it is not just Cav. Bradley Wiggins maintained his overall fourth place at the finish, matching Robert Millar as the best-ever finish by a British rider. With Team Sky joining the professional peloton next season, British cycling has never been in better health.

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About Tim
Father of three. Bit of a geek. That's all, folks.

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