A magnificent sprint win for Mark Cavendish on the Champs-Elysées was not quite enough to earn the Manxman victory in the sprinters' green jersey competition, but yesterday's 15th stage win of his career in the Tour de France was still a dream ending to this year's race for the Briton. Cavendish sped across the finish line in Paris with a good 20 metres of daylight between himself and his nearest rival, Alessandro Petacchi of Italy, and New Zealander Julian Dean.
Just as in 2008 and 2009, there is no doubt who is the top sprinter in the Tour and by Paris, Cavendish was closing the gap on Petacchi in the green jersey competition almost as quickly as he roared towards the race's final finish line yesterday.
But Cavendish's difficult first week in the Tour meant green remained just 11 points out of reach overall, with Petacchi, the veteran Italian sprinter, reaping the benefits of his two early stage wins and a ream of top-three places. Afterwards, Cavendish admitted that not taking green was disappointing, but the huge grin as the HTC-Columbia rider crossed the line at the head of the pack for a second year running showed that the setback was relative.
Less than three weeks ago, in the stage into Brussels, the Manxman first had a rare crash to contend with, then three days later, at Reims, even when Cavendish stayed upright, he seemed inexplicably unable to respond to Petacchi's acceleration.
After that, though, the sprints started to go Cavendish's way, even though his key wingman and team-mate, Mark Renshaw, was thrown off the Tour for headbutting a rival.
At Revel on stage 13, Cavendish dragged himself over a tough final climb to claim an impressive second place behind breakaway Alexandre Vinokourov and keep alive his bid for the points jersey. Then at Bordeaux and Paris, the Manxman was simply unstoppable, clinching two wins in three days.
"We only had seven guys in our team when we started [yesterday]," the 25-year-old said later, "and that made it hard because we had to ride a lot on the front to keep the gap down.
"But in the final kilometre my team-mate Tony Martin did a brilliant job of dropping me off on Petacchi's wheel just when I needed to be there.
"Once I was there behind Petacchi, I knew I could get past him to win the stage. I came round the last corner and just went for it."
Cavendish's winning margin was even larger than usual yesterday, but he explained that the Champs-Elysées was one of the few places where he could take the luxury of going just as fast as he liked. "Normally you have to save as much energy as possible because you don't know how strong you'll be the next day.
"But on the Champs-Elysées it's one of the few occasions in the Tour where you can go balls out to the line, and that's kind of what I did today."
The HTC-Columbia rider's next big target is the World Championships in Melbourne, where Sky riders Bradley Wiggins and Steve Cummings – very active on the front yesterday reeling in a late break – will be in the same GB jersey as Cavendish. Yesterday in Paris they were working hard on the front in what looked like a dress rehearsal.
Cavendish is not doing any criteriums – profitable exhibition races – after the Tour this year, and will instead be heading to the Tour of Spain in August for the first time in his career, in order to build up for Australia.
The Manxman would be the first to admit that the first half of the 2010 season has been a rollercoaster, results-wise. But if he is in anywhere near the kind of form he's shown in the latter half of this year's Tour when he heads for Melbourne in September, a rainbow jersey of world champion could well be on his shoulders this autumn.