MARK Cavendish's Tour de France ended as perfectly as he could have wished yesterday with a third straight victory on the Champs Elysees and the green jersey safely on his back.
In one burst that saw off Sky’s Edvald Boasson Hagen, Cavendish has become Britain’s first winner of the points jersey, as well as the first sprinter to win three times on the Champs ElysEes. As if that were not enough, yesterday’s victory was also his 20th in the Tour de France, making him the equal-sixth most prolific stage winner in the history of the race - at 26, it is a truly exceptional achievement.
Cavendish’s latest sprint came after his squad had played cat-and-mouse with the rest of the pack, his team-mate Lars Bak’s presence in a late break forcing the other squads to do the bulk of the work.
When Bak was reeled in, a surge by Boasson Hagen almost threatened his final dash for the final line. But the Norwegian faltered and that was enough for Cavendish to cross the line with his fifth stage win of this year’s race in the bag, and, more crucially, the green jersey.
“I’ve been trying to get this for the last few years and it’s a super, super emotional day,” Cavendish said afterward. “I’ll keep coming back as long as my legs can keep coming back and I’ll keep trying to wins as long as my legs can keep trying to win.”
But if he was characteristically talkative - and willing to reveal a sickness in the Pyrenees that could have wrecked his Tour - Cavendish fell almost silent when asked if he could make public how many teams were interested in signing him for next year and when he would make a decision. After 15 seconds during which he twirled the microphone and smiled, he finally uttered one word: “No.”
Cavendish was not the only Briton to go onto the Paris podium yesterday as David Millar went up the steps to celebrate being part of the best team prizes.
Then, when overall winner Cadel Evans stepped up to claim not just Australia’s first victory in the biggest annual sporting event on the planet, it also ended one of the longest quests for the yellow jersey that modern cycling has seen.
Tipped for greatness when he took the Tour of Italy lead in 2002 and held it until nine kilometres to go on the last mountain stage, Evans then had a decade-long series of misses that left him labelled as cycling’s nearly man.
The 2011 Tour though has been a different story altogether, with all the bad luck Evans has experienced suddenly evaporating like summer rainfall - although there has been plenty of that in this waterlogged three-week trek around France.
Evans dodged the plentiful crashes that took out too many other contenders, and equally importantly played a perfect tactical game, hovering somewhere in contention without looking too threatening until it was too late to get rid of him.
There were narrow squeaks, most notably on two days in the Alps when he underestimated the strength of a long-distance attack by Andy Schleck and then his bike let him down. But Evans always reckoned, as he said on Saturday, on doing a strong final time trial, and while this Tour has been gloriously uncertain in general, Evans’s gamble came good and he ousted the Luxembourg-born rider from yellow.
Just 24 hours later, though, there was no such last-minute surprise with green, as Cavendish finally pulled off a victory that - after two years of near-things - finally sealed the Briton’s prize.
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