Cycling: Tiernan-Locke ready to reach for the Sky after Cavendish's exit

 

Tour victory, stage win, king of the mountains and sprint champion. Yes it was a marvellous week on home turf for British cycling. Mark Cavendish scored his third stage success on the Guildford cobbles to close on a high. But the Tour of Britain title went to the man tipped to replace him at Team Sky, Jonathan Tiernan-Locke, the first Briton to take a domestic victory since Chris Lillywhite 19 years ago.

Peter Williams won all three intermediate sprints on the eighth and final stage to claim the sprint classification jersey, and Kristian House was crowned king of the mountains. Cavendish gave the crowds what they wanted yesterday, hammering up the cobbled hill after being led out inside the final kilometre by stage one winner Luke Rowe. That is how it was supposed to be a week ago in Norwich, where Cavendish went down in a heap inside the final two kilometres. Yesterday's was a textbook finish.

Once Cavendish scents the line, there is not a rider on earth who can reel him in. After the win in what was his final outing in the rainbow jersey of the world road-race champion, Cavendish said: "The victory feels very nice and the fans have been incredible.

"The amount of people on the road today was like the Olympic Games. That's been the same all week, come rain or shine. I thought people had forgotten about me a little bit – it's been all about sideburns this week. But seeing the amount of people in Guildford, I just wanted to win. It was my last day in the rainbow jersey and I wanted to finish it off in style.

"The team rode really hard all day. Breaks were going left, right and centre, but they stayed with me and led me to the line. I'm really happy."

The 147.8km route from Reigate to Guildford was once more packed with enthusiastic punters all waiving their Union Jacks. So a summer like no other for the sport concluded with one final show of strength, the crowd impressing as much as the cyclists, helping to establish the revamped Tour of Britain in the mid-September calendar in its ninth and most successful running.

Tiernan-Locke finished in the group behind Cavendish to secure the race that he led at the start of the day. He admitted to fatigue and to a harder finale than he had anticipated. As we saw during the Olympic road race, Surrey's sunny uplands are no easy matter even for the best. They might never be home to cowbells or summer snow, but after a week in the saddle they made a few pips squeak yesterday. Tiernan-Locke said: "It has not really sunk in yet. It was a tough day, a lot tougher than we thought. So I feel relief more than anything."

The cycling scene shifts across the channel to the Netherlands, where the World Championships began yesterday with the return to the event of the team time trial. Tiernan-Locke and Cavendish are both contesting Sunday's road race in which the latter will attempt to retain the rainbow jersey before negotiating his exit from the British outfit.

When asked about the speculation linking him to Cavendish's Sky saddle, Tiernan-Locke betrayed his interest with a smile. The 27-year-old lost three years of his career to a virus in 2005, returning to full time racing in 2009 only for his team to fold. The move to Endura this year saw him win three UCI tour events before leading the team at his home event. He assumed the lead in on Friday's sixth stage in Wales, and held on to win by 18 seconds.

 

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Long climb to glory: JTL factfile

Born 26 December 1984

Hometown Plymouth

Teams 2009: Plowman Craven-Madison. 2010–2011: Rapha Condor-Sharp. 2012–present: Endura Racing

Previous major titles 2012: Tour Méditerranéen, Tour du Haut Var, Tour Alsace

* Tiernan-Locke raced mountain bikes at the age of 15 before taking up road cycling. His progress was halted in 2005 when he contracted glandular fever. After studying product design at the University of the West of England, he returned to the sport in 2008, only to be knocked off his bike by a horse. A noted climber, he won the King of the Mountains title at last year's Tour of Britain, finishing fifth overall.

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