Mark Cavendish's 2009 Tour de France could hardly have got off to a better start after the Manxman roared to the fifth Tour stage victory of his career and his first ever green points jersey here in Brignoles.
Cavendish's final sprint to the line was both faultlessly delivered and left no room for doubt as to who is the strongest sprinter in the peloton. All eight of his Columbia-HTC team-mates were there to guide him through the chaos of 180 riders massing for a bunch sprint in the stage's finale. Their support effectively meant he enjoyed an armchair ride to the finish before polishing off the opposition in person.
Sure enough, with 200 metres to go the 24-year-old powered out of the front of the bunch, his grin growing wider and wider with each pedalstroke that took him towards the line and a convincing stage win.
Cavendish's victory also earned him the green jersey – awarded to the leader of the points competition in the Tour – a bonus that represented far more than just icing on the cake to the 14th victory of his season.
He has steadily played down his chances of becoming the first Briton to win the points race this year, but the stealthy kiss he gave the garment on the Tour podium suggests he will not be giving it up willingly.
"Taking green and winning a stage on the same day is one of the biggest achievements for any sprinter and this is a really beautiful moment for me," Cavendish said. "At the same time, it's a classification where experience really counts, and I don't want it to get in the way of my other goals, and end up wasting too much energy defending it in these first 10 days."
After two abandons in the Tour – both planned, but no less painful for that – Cavendish's overriding aim is to reach Paris for the first time in his career. "If I do win green, it'll be through winning stages, not through going for extra points in the bonus [mid-stage] sprints," he said.
"My dream finish would be to take the final day's victory on the Champs Elysées wearing green, but there's a lot of guys here who are dreaming of doing that."
Cavendish makes winning look frighteningly easy, but his chances of success could have been wrecked by a late-stage incident in which the Briton said he had been hit by the Dutch Skil-Shimano rider Kenny van Hummel.
When the riders jostle for position in the tense final build-up to bunch sprints with 180 riders crammed into a road just a few metres wide, elbows tend to be used freely. But whether it was intentional or unintentional, the Briton strongly condemned the rider's action and warned that he would "have to speak to him later".
Skil-Shimano spokesman Benny Ceulen said one of their riders had indeed struck Cavendish but it was another Dutchman, Piet Rooijakkers and not Van Hummel, who had accidentally made contact. The incident was not mentioned in the commissaire's report at the end of the stage.
Whatever lay behind the high-speed tussle, it was a timely indicator of the dangers involved in such bunch sprinting, which Cavendish's seemingly unstoppable run of success have tended to eclipse, and also partly explains his frequently fervent thanks to his team after winning.
"There were a lot of teams desperate to win, this is the Tour and a victory here matters a lot, but my guys know exactly how to keep me in position, and when they do that there's only one result possible," Cavendish said.
He will have another chance to go for another stage win and further reinforce his hold on the green jersey in today's flattish 196.5km run from Marseilles to La Grande-Motte. After yesterday's performance, it would be hard to see any other outcome than another victory for Cavendish.
Tour de France: Stage 2 results
*Result and standings after Stage Two (187km Monaco to Brignoles) of the Tour de France: Stage result: 1 M Cavendish (GB) Columbia-HTC 4hr 30min 02 sec; 2 T Farrar (US) Garmin @same time; 3 R Feillu (Fr) Agritubel; 4 T Hushovd (Nor) Cervelo; 5 Y Arashiro (Japan) Bbox-Bouygues; 6 G Ciolek (Ger) Milram; 7 W Bonnet (Fr) Bbox-Bouygues; 8 N Roche (Rep of Ire) AGR; 9 K de Kort (Neth) Skil-Shimano; 10 L Mondory (Fr) AGR. Overall standings: 1 F Cancellara (Swit) Saxo Bank 4hr 49min 34sec; 2 A Contador (Sp) Astana +18sec; 3 B Wiggins (GB) Garmin +19sec; 4 Andreas Klöden (Ger) Astana +22sec; 5 C Evans (Aus) Silence-Lotto +23sec; 6 L Leipheimer (US) Astana +30sec; 7 R Kreuziger (Cz Rep) Liquigas +32sec; 8 T Martin (Ger) Columbia +33sec; 9 V Nibali (It) Liquigas +37sec; 10 L Armstrong (US) Astana +40sec. Sprint standings: 1 Cavendish 35pt; 2 T Farrar (US) Garmin 30pt; 3 R Feillu (Fr) Agritubel 26pt.
Team standings: 1 Astana 14hr 29min 52sec; 2 Saxo Bank +31sec; 3 Garmin +44sec; 4 Liquigas +1:25; 5 Columbia +1:46.