Yesterday Britain, now for the world. Compared to his last capital triumph yesterday was a relatively low-key London coronation for Bradley Wiggins – he described the emotion of winning this one as “relief” – but victory in the Tour of Britain will send him off to Florence today for this week’s world championship in his finest fettle since the glory days of 2012. The prospect of turning a turbulent 2013 from a footnote in the Wiggins biography to a garlanded chapter has become a live one.
It was the classic British one-two in yesterday’s final stage; Mark Cavendish first across the line to claim his third stage win of the eight days with Wiggins sitting pretty in the grinning Manxman’s wake – this is a man who just loves winning – to take the overall honour.
It is 13 months since Wiggins sprawled in an oversize throne outside Hampton Court Palace with an Olympic gold medal hanging around his neck. It was the defining image of his defining year. Yesterday he took permanent possession of the gold jersey that comes with winning his home Tour, his first success since. In the grand scheme of cycling things, the accompanying trophy is not a bauble that will take pride of place on the Wiggins mantelpiece nevertheless the manner in which he and his team have dominated the week has clearly done wonders for his state of mind.
“There was an element of going through the motions early in the season,” said Wiggins, who pulled out of the Giro d’Italia and then missed the Tour de France. “I came out this week with the commitment I showed last year. I crashed on day two and was straight up and unphased by it and I think that was a sign I was back to where I was last year. I will enjoy tonight with my family and tomorrow once I arrive in Italy it will be straight out on my bike, focus turns to the time trial. I love doing that, I'm good at doing it; Wednesday I race. I've been there before.”
Yesterday’s 8.8km stage through central London – ticking off all the landmarks from the Tower of London to the Houses of Parliament and past Downing Street to finish beneath the hooves of Earl Haig’s horse on Whitehall – proved a suitably raucous finale to the most successful Tour of Britain yet, the 10th since it returned to the calendar in its current guise. They were hanging off the lampposts outside the Ministry of Defence to roar Cavendish home and he did not disappoint with his 10th stage win of the event. His Omega Pharma Quick-Step team have been just about immaculate in delivering their man to his jump-off point and did the same yesterday. Cavendish needed no second invitation. He too will head to Florence as part of a strong looking British team – Wiggins will be there as well after his time trial on Wednesday – supporting Chris Froome’s bid to win the world road race on Sunday.
“It was really, really nice,” said Cavendish of yesterday’s happy finale. “Seeing crowds like this… what has happened in British cycling in the last few years has been incredible.”
Wiggins held on to his 26-second lead but the last stage was not without its moments of alarm. As the tempo quickened around the 10th and final lap and the jostling to keep up with Cavendish and the speed men reached its height, Wiggins feared disaster.
“Cav’s the fastest man in the world, there’s one or two that can get near him, but there are some muppets in there as well,” he said. “I thought they were going to go down with 5km to go. Guys in 25th, 30th place, jostling like they were going for the win – if that had happened, there had been a split, lose 26 seconds and that would’ve been it. Until you cross the line you just don’t know.”
Wiggins described the support the race has received from day one in the Scottish Borders as “overwhelming.” Impressive crowds lined the route yesterday taking the final attendance for the eight-day race above one and a half million. It may be ranked in the third tier by cycling’s governing body, the UCI, but in terms of its attendance it stands comparison with all but the Tour de France. The race has established itself in the calendar, with its mix of trade teams, the best of young British talent – Simon Yates, who will ride in the under-23 event at the worlds, finished third overall – and the headline acts of Wiggins and Cavendish, as a key jumping-off point for the world championships. Wiggins for one will be hoping that proves the case.
The worlds began yesterday with the trade team time trials. Froome was part of a strong Team Sky line-up that took bronze. He will return to his Monaco home before coming to Italy on Friday for final preparations. Britain’s Katie Colclough was part of the Specialized-Lulelemon team which won the women’s event.