“GB is one of the most respected, even feared teams at the Worlds today. Win or lose, that’s one hell of an achievement. We prefer win.”
And boy did they win. Those are the words of David Millar on Twitter, published before Mark Cavendish’s victory, which ended Great Britain’s 46 year wait for a male world road race champion.
But while Cavendish will rightly dominate the headlines, behind the Manx Missile sat seven riders who provided the launch pad and countless backroom staff that contributed to Project Rainbow Jersey – three years in the making and devised by Cavendish’s coach Rod Ellingworth.
Tour de France green jersey winner Cavendish is quick to praise his team-mates whenever he delivers, which is so often that we can become blasé about about their efforts. But while the Manx Missile’s HTC-Highroad team have been drilled year-round in providing the perfect lead-out for the sprinter, Great Britain’s eight-man line-up were thrown into unfamiliar waters.
“We realised about halfway through that we were going to have to lead,” said road captain David Millar. “It was daunting, but everybody did they job even more than we expected.
“Then Cav, what can you say? There’s been a lot of pressure on him, but he’s handled it really well. He doesn’t make mistakes. That’s why he’s the best in the world.”
Delivered, on the day, by the best team in the world. Great Britain took to the front from almost the first pedal stroke, with Chris Froome, on the head of the peloton exactly two weeks after finishing an historic second in the Vuelta a Espana, and Steve Cummings, who secured the same result in the Tour of Britain, keeping tabs on the early break.
Jeremy Hunt was never far from Cavendish’s side throughout the race, marshalling his team-mate through the peloton, before time trial silver medallist Bradley Wiggins moved to the front to produce an epic turn on the final lap, leaving Ian Stannard and Geraint Thomas to complete the business end of the lead-out.
That said, Cavendish had to finish the job and, despite being swamped with less than 500m to, seized upon a gap on the right of the sprint to launch his bid for the line and secure the biggest prize in world cycling. Cavendish thrives on pressure, and a cool head in the heat of the moment is one of his greatest attributes.
Meticulous planning by British Cycling, a hallmark of Dave Brailsford and his management team, ended with Great Britain taking the strongest ever team to Copenhagen. Wiggins’ third place in Paris-Nice and Criterium du Dauphiné victory, Thomas’ Bayern-Rundfahrt win and Cavendish’s five Tour de France stage triumphs all helped Britain finish in the top ten in the UCI rankings. Victory in Denmark came after a season where British cyclists claimed results across the board.
When the Danish capital was announced as host in January 2007, Ellingworth identified the flat course as a rare opportunity to deliver a sprinter. Four years later, seven riders, with Cavendish in tow, enabled Great Britain to control the race, removing the threat of a rider like Philippe Gilbert looking to capitalise on the the uphill finish.
“I’ve watched World Championships for many, many years and I don’t think I’ve ever seen a team dominate from start to finish like a British team did today,” said Brailsford, whose ‘marginal gains’ philosophy was put to action by Cavendish wearing a skin suit and aero helmet.
That dominance is a stark contrast from Britain’s past, when riders like Robert Millar and Chris Boardman have offered individual displays of brilliance with little backroom support or funding.
But now we have come full circle and Cavendish’s triumph was, in fact, just the dénouement of a week that saw Great Britain top the World Championship medal table.
Wiggins won silver in the men’s time trial, while Emma Pooley claimed bronze in the women’s event. Lucy Garner won the junior women’s road race, Elinor Barker took silver in the junior women’s time trial and Andrew Fenn finished third in the men’s under-23 road race.
Great Britain have arrived. That’s something worth celebrating – and Britain’s riders certainly did that. “Oh. My. God. I think a pig has s**t in my head,” tweeted Millar this morning.
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