The chaotic scenes outside the Team Sky bus told of the towering status of the superstars within. It didn't matter that Mark Cavendish had fallen within sight of the finish, and Bradley Wiggins at the very next corner. For the many thousands packing the Norfolk Showground to the west of Norwich, Cav and Wiggo are the Tour of Britain, win or lose.
Cavendish was in position A inside the final two kilometres when the riders immediately in front went down as they entered the showground complex. The world champion had nowhere to go except over his handlebars, coming down heavily on his left shoulder. Wiggins, one of two Sky riders leading Cavendish out for the sprint to the line, was clear of trouble yet went over himself, leaving team-mate Luke Rowe to hammer across the line to take the opening 125-mile stage and claim his first win as a professional.
Cavendish had brought the roof in overnight by admitting his desire to leave the team to pursue his ambitions elsewhere. There was nothing more to add on that theme beyond his apposite collapse on the road and the metaphor it offered. Despite his obvious discomfort, Cavendish answered the febrile calls from outside and emerged from within the bus for the ritual signing session, preceded by Wiggins.
There was no sense of disappointment; Wiggins was just delighted to be back at work. "After Cav went, I overcooked the next corner and was off the front, then it was just Luke. But we won, which was the main thing. It is great for Luke, but unfortunate for Cav, he went down hard again," Wiggins said.
"Luke deserves it; he has been knocking on the door all year, has had some third and fourth places – what a day to shine for him. I have had easier days on the bike, but it was nice to be back in the team racing, to have a job, a role and routine. We will see how it goes day by day, but this tour is a tough race, so we'll have to see how it develops."
Wiggins did not arrive in Ipswich for the grand departure until midnight on Saturday, and woke to the news that Cavendish wanted out. "There are a lot of things going on which are not out there," he said. "I am as much in the dark as everyone else, but I do speak to him about things. Of course I can understand, and I have said it before – it is not easy, and it is some position you are in when the world champion has to leave to get an opportunity. That is the downfall of our own success, in a way."
The political landscape had no bearing on the reception the principal players received on the Ipswich quayside at the start of the day and thereafter along the Suffolk coast and inland to Norwich. Indeed, Wiggomania might be said to be in its infancy.
"It's on a par with the Tour de France, but you kind of expect it to be like that now with the Olympics and everything else we've done. It's not a big surprise, but it is really nice," Wiggins said. "It is hard to come to terms with, really.
"It has been a big summer for me. When I am trying to pack the shopping, and you are getting all this [fanfare], or you are trying to have a pizza with your kids in town, that is difficult. You are expected to know the answers to everything, you are the messiah, everybody wants to know what you think, but I don't know all the answers. I'm just human, at the end of the day. But then again, when you come to somewhere like this, it is brilliant and you really enjoy it."
Wiggins' return to the day job meant his absence from today's Olympic parade in central London. There is an upside, however. "I'm just glad to have three days without drinking now, and am quite happy going to bed with my peppermint tea."
The tour resumes today in Nottingham, closing in Knowsley Safari Park on Merseyside.Reuse content