Cycling: Cavendish win caps best ever Tour for Britain

Sprinter's triumph in Paris and Wiggins' heroics give cause for optimism for GB
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Mark Cavendish pulled down the curtain yesterday on one of Great Britain's greatest ever Tours with a jawdropping sixth-stage victory on the Champs-Elysées.

Cavendish's final win was taken with almost insulting ease after he and Columbia-HTC team-mate Mark Renshaw tore out of the pack with 300 metres to go.

Renshaw brought Cavendish up to speed, the Manxman powered past him, then both riders raised their arms in the air as Cavendish clinched the 10th Tour stage win of his career.

"Winning on the Champs-Elysées is any sprinter's dream," Cavendish said afterwards. "I always said I wanted to finish in Paris, too, and that's what I've managed to do." Given late breakaways sometimes succeed on the Champs-Elsyées, Cavendish's squad stayed close to the front and extra vigilant as the pack pounded up and down Paris' most famous boulevard.

A group of seven riders was finally reeled in 6km from the line by Cavendish's yellow-and-black clad cohorts. A brief attempt to break their domination by two riders from the Garmin-Slipstream squad failed to work out, then Cavendish and Renshaw tore through the final bend at terrifyingly high speed to break clear for a double slice of glory.

"I was really nervous when Mark [Renshaw] went into that last corner so fast, but we came through fine and got the win," Cavendish said.

"Victory on the Champs-Elysées is the most special event for any sprinter and it's the biggest win of this race for me by far."

Inevitably, questions were asked about the green points jersey, which Cavendish held for nearly a week and seemed close to taking until he was disqualified for an irregular sprint.

But if Cavendish was bitter about losing out on the jersey, taken by Norwegian Thor Hushovd, he did an excellent job of hiding it.

"I got a bit excited about that and I thought it might have been possible. It didn't happen, but I'm still learning and I'll be back next year to go for it for sure. I came here looking for one stage win and a finish in Paris, so I can't go away disappointed."

Following his four stage wins in 2008 and six in 2009, at 24, Cavendish is the youngest rider in a century to take a total of 10 victories in the Tour de France.

At the same time, Cavendish has now amassed the biggest number of stage wins ever taken in a bunch sprint in the Tour de France, beating the record of five established by Freddy Maertens in 1981. The Columbia-HTC pro's avalanche of victories from Brignoles on stage two to Paris on the last day of racing has come in the same year that Bradley Wiggins has taken England's best ever overall finish – fourth in Paris.

The Londoner made a strong defence on Saturday's Mont Ventoux stage of his overall position and then stayed out of trouble on Sunday's sprint. He said afterwards that finishing fourth far surpassed his expectations. "I came into this race looking for a top-20 place in Paris, so this is much better than anything I expected.

"The ride I did in Monaco [finishing second behind Fabian Cancellara] was a great moment, it set things rolling for the days to come."

Wiggins' weight loss programme since the Olympics, shedding 7kg, and concentrating fully on the road has been widely credited with his radical improvement in the mountains in the Tour. Always a strong time triallist, when combined with far better climbing Wiggins has suddenly been converted into an overall contender.

The Briton's team manager, Jonathan Vaughters, revealed that a phone call just a fortnight before the Tour confirmed his belief that Wiggins was on track for a great ride.

"About two weeks before the Tour, Brad called me up and said he'd done a 10-mile individual time trial, producing 482 watts of power for 20 minutes."

"I remembered that before the 1999 Tour, which he won, Lance Armstrong rode up a mountain as a test near his home, and he did 490 watts for 30 minutes.

"The two guys weighed about the same – 72kg. So I said to Bradley, 'Your figures are becoming similar to someone who could contend for the Tour.'"

As Vaughters pointed out, if the theory looked good the question was whether Wiggins could then maintain that level of performance for three weeks in a major Tour, not 20 minutes.

"The day-to-day recovery was the big thing. We knew he had the engine but we didn't know how much petrol he had in the tank.

"But he's totally outstripped my expectations – and his own. He's taking his career on the road very, very seriously this year and I'm very proud of him for that."

Britain's Sean Yates, another expert time triallist who held the Tour lead in 1994, said of Wiggins: "He was strong as hell, but he was very wise to take things on the day-by-day. He may be able to make it onto the podium in the years to come, this is just the beginning."

Comparisons are tricky when it comes to establishing whether this is Great Britain's best ever Tour in its 108-year history.

But Cavendish's and Wiggins' achievements across the board are surely of equal value to Robert Millar's victory in the King of the Mountains competition in 1984 – the only time Great Britain has ever won any kind of classification in the Tour – and the Scot's fourth place that July.

In any case, it seems highly unlikely that either Cavendish or Wiggins will be happy to regard their achievements as their upper limit. Nor should other riders be forgotten, such as David Millar, the multiple-stage winner in the Tour in previous years who rode superbly for his team-mate Wiggins this July.

Ever ambitious, Cavendish left the race already talking about going for the green jersey in 2010, while for Wiggins this new-found ability seems to have given him fresh motivation for racing. Add to that a British team, Sky, arriving in the Tour in 2010, too, and suddenly anything seems possible.

Tour de France Weekend results and final positions

Stage 20 Montelimar–Mont Ventoux, 167km: 1 J M G Cepa (Sp) Rabobank 4hr 39min 21sec; 2 T Martin (Ger) Team Columbia-HTC at 3sec; 3 A Schleck (Lux) Team Saxo Bank at 38sec; 4 A Contador Velasco (Sp) Astana at same time; 5 L Armstrong (US) Astana at 41sec; 6 F Schleck (Lux) Team Saxo Bank at 43sec; 7 R Kreuziger (Cz Rep) Liquigas at 46sec; 8 F Pellizotti (It) Liquigas at 56sec; 9 V Nibali (It) Liquigas at 58sec; 10 B Wiggins (GB) Garmin-Slipstream at 1min 3sec; 11 J Van Den Broeck (Bel) Silence-Lotto at 1min 39sec; 12 A Kloden (Ger) Astana at 1min 42sec; 13 C Riblon (Fr) AGR La Mondiale at 1min 47sec; 14 J Posthuma (Neth) Rabobank at 1min 56sec; 15 C Le Mevel (Fr) Francaise des Jeux at 2min 26sec; 16 C Vande Velde (US) Garmin-Slipstream at 2min 34sec; 17 M Bouet (Fr) Agritubel at 2min 42sec; 18 M Astarloza Chaurreau (Sp) Euskaltel-Euskadi at 2min 44sec; 19 D Righi (It) Lampre-NGC at 3min 3sec; 20 S Calzati (Fr) Agritubel at 3min 15sec. Selected: 63 C Wegelius (GB) Silence-Lotto 8min 5sec; 104 M Cavendish (GB) Team Columbia-HTC at 25min 42sec; 155 D Millar (GB) Garmin - Slipstream at 26min 1sec.

Stage 21 Montereau-Fault-Yonne–Paris Champs-Élysées 164km: 1 M Cavendish (GB) 4hr 2min 18sec; 2 M Renshaw (Aus) Team Columbia-HTC; 3 T Farrar (US) Garmin-Slipstream; 4 G Ciolek (Ger) Team Milram; 5 Y Hutarovich (Bela) Française des Jeux; 6 T Hushovd (Nor) Cervelo Test Team; 7 J J R Gil (Sp) Caisse d'Epargne; 8 M Bandiera (It) Lampre-NGC; 9 D Bennati (It) Liquigas; 10 W Bonnet (Fr) BBOX Bouygues Telecom; 11 L Mondory (Fr) AGR La Mondiale; 12 G Lequatre (Fr) Agritubel; 13 N Troussov (Rus) Team Katusha; 14 C Lemoine (Fr) Skil-Shimano; 15 L Duque (Col) Cofidis, Le Credit en Ligne; 16 S Lang (Ger) Silence-Lotto; 17 M Tosatto (It) Quick Step; 18 S de Jongh (Neth) Quick Step; 19 F Cancellara (Swit) Team Saxo Bank; 20 Y Arashiro (Japan) BBOX Bouygues Telecom. Selected: 55 B Wiggins (GB); 90 N Roche (Rep Ire) AGR La Mondiale at same time; 138 D Millar (GB) Garmin-Slipstream at 30sec; 139 C Wegelius (GB) Silence-Lotto at same time.

Final classification after stage 21: 1 A Contador Velasco (Sp) Astana 85hr 48min 35sec; 2 A Schleck (Lux) Team Saxo Bank at 4min 11sec; 3 L Armstrong (US) Astana at 5min 24sec; 4 B Wiggins (GB) at 6min 1sec; 5 F Schleck (Lux) Team Saxo Bank at 6min 4sec; 6 A Klöden (Ger) Astana at 6min 42sec. Selected: 23 N Roche (Rep Ire) AGR La Mondiale at 38min 20sec; 59 C Wegelius (GB) Silence-Lotto 1hr 29min 37sec; 85 D Millar (GB) 2hr 15min 4sec; 131 M Cavendish (GB) 3hr 21min 54sec.

*Race leader: Alberto Contador (Sp), Astana

*Points leader: Thor Hushovd (Nor), Cervélo

*Leading climber: Franco Pellizotti (It), Liquigas

*Young rider: Andy Schleck (Lux), Saxo Bank

Great Britons Record-breaking year on Le Tour

*The British cyclists Mark Cavendish and Bradley Wiggins both broke British records with their performances in this year's Tour de France.

*Following his success yesterday in the 21st stage of this year's tour, Cavendish took his career haul of Tour stage wins to 10, a British record. The Manxman equalled Barry Hoban's 34-year-old British record of eight stage wins in the event when he won the 11th stage on 15 July and then beat the record when he was victorious in the 19th stage from Bourgoin-Jallieu to Aubenas on Friday. Hoban won eight stages between 1967 and 1975 and was the first British rider to win two stages in succession, during the 1969 tour.

*Wiggins finished the event in fourth position, the equal best finish for a British rider in the Tour. In 1984, the Scot Robert Millar finished fourth and became the first, and so far only, British cyclist to win a classification in the Tour when he was named King of the Mountains.

Millar's life post-Tour has been one of intrigue and mystery. Having been Britain's coach and also turned his hand to sports journalism – as well as appearing in a TV advert for Kellogg's cereal in the mid-1980s – Millar then cut all ties with the sport and disappeared completely in the late 1990s. In 2000, a newspaper report claimed he was living as a woman, but in 2002 he appeared, as a man, in Manchester to assist the Scotland team at the Commonwealth Games. His current whereabouts, however, are unknown.