Mark Cavendish's Tour de France ended as perfectly as he could have wished yesterday with a third straight victory on the Champs Elysées and the green jersey safely on his back.
In one burst that saw off Sky's Edvald Boasson Hagen, Cavendish has become Britain's first winner of the points jersey, as well as the first sprinter to win three times on the Champs Elysées. As if that were not enough, yesterday's victory was also his 20th in the Tour de France, making him the equal-sixth most prolific stage winner in the history of the race – at 26, it is a truly exceptional achievement.
Cavendish's latest sprint came after his squad had played cat-and-mouse with the rest of the pack, his team-mate Lars Bak's presence in a late break forcing the other squads to do the bulk of the work.
When Bak was reeled in, a surge by Boasson Hagen almost threatened his final dash for the final line. But the Norwegian faltered and that was enough for Cavendish to cross the line with his fifth stage win of this year's race in the bag, and, more crucially, the green jersey.
"I've been trying to get this for the last few years and it's a super, super emotional day," Cavendish said afterward. "I'll keep coming back as long as my legs can keep coming back and I'll keep trying to wins as long as my legs can keep trying to win."
But if he was characteristically talkative – and willing to reveal a sickness in the Pyrenees that could have wrecked his Tour – Cavendish fell almost silent when asked if he could make public how many teams were interested in signing him for next year and when he would make a decision. After 15 seconds during which he twirled the microphone and smiled, he finally uttered one word: "No."
Cavendish was not the only Briton to go onto the Paris podium yesterday as David Millar went up the steps to celebrate being part of the best team prizes.
Then, when overall winner Cadel Evans stepped up to claim not just Australia's first victory in the biggest annual sporting event on the planet, it also ended one of the longest quests for the yellow jersey that modern cycling has seen.
Tipped for greatness when he took the Tour of Italy lead in 2002 and held it until nine kilometres to go on the last mountain stage, Evans then had a decade-long series of misses that left him labelled as cycling's nearly man.
The 2011 Tour though has been a different story altogether, with all the bad luck Evans has experienced suddenly evaporating like summer rainfall – although there has been plenty of that in this waterlogged three-week trek around France.
Evans dodged the plentiful crashes that took out too many other contenders, and equally importantly played a perfect tactical game, hovering somewhere in contention without looking too threatening until it was too late to get rid of him.
There were narrow squeaks, most notably on two days in the Alps when he underestimated the strength of a long-distance attack by Andy Schleck and then his bike let him down. But Evans always reckoned, as he said on Saturday, on doing a strong final time trial, and while this Tour has been gloriously uncertain in general, Evans's gamble came good and he ousted the Luxembourg-born rider from yellow.
Just 24 hours later, though, there was no such last-minute surprise with green, as Cavendish finally pulled off a victory that – after two years of near-things – finally sealed the Briton's prize.
Stage 20 (Grenoble, 42.5km)
1 T Martin (Ger) HTC-Highroad 55min 33sec
2 C Evans (Aus) BMC Racing Team at 7sec
3 A Contador Velasco (Sp) Saxo Bank Sungard at 1min 6sec
4 T De Gendt (Bel) Vacansoleil-DCM Pro Cycling Team at 1min 29sec
5 R Porte (Aus) Saxo Bank Sungard at 1min 30sec
6 J-C Peraud (Fr) AG2R La Mondiale at 1min 33sec
7 S S Gonzalez (Sp) Euskaltel-Euskadi at 1min 37sec
8 F Cancellara (Swit) Leopard Trek at 1min 42sec
9 P Velits (Slovak) HTC-Highroad at 2min 3sec
10 R Taaramae (Est) Cofidis Le Crédit En Ligne at same time
Selected others: 32 D Millar (GB) Team Garmin-Cervelo at 3min 41sec; 46 G Thomas (GB) Sky Procycling at 4min 24sec; 130 B Swift (GB) Sky Procycling at 7min 14sec; 156 M Cavendish (GB) HTC-Highroad at 8min 35sec.
Stage 21 (Creteil-Paris Champs-Elysées, 160km)
1 M Cavendish (GB) HTC-Highroad 2hr 27min 2sec
2 E B Hagen (Nor) Sky Procycling
3 A Greipel (Ger) Omega Pharma-Lotto
4 T Farrar (US) Team Garmin-Cervelo
5 F Cancellara (Swit) Leopard Trek
6 D Oss (It) Liquigas-Cannondale
7 B Bozic (Sloven) Vacansoleil-DCM Pro Cycling Team
8 T Vaitkus (Lith) Pro Team Astana
9 G Ciolek (Ger) Quickstep Cycling Team
10 J Engoulvent (Fr) Saur – Sojasun all at same time
Selected Others: 63 G Thomas (GB) Sky Procycling 2hr 27min 02sec; 146 B Swift (GB) Sky Procycling at same time; 158 D Millar (GB) Team Garmin-Cervelo at 35sec.
Final General Classification
1 C Evans (Aus) BMC Racing Team 86hr 12min 22sec
2 A Schleck (Lux) Leopard Trek at 1min 34sec
3 F Schleck (Lux) Leopard Trek at 2min 30sec
4 T Voeckler (Fr) Team Europcar at 3min 20sec
5 A Contador Velasco (Sp) Saxo Bank Sungard at 3min 57sec
6 S S Gonzalez (Sp) Euskaltel-Euskadi at 4min 55sec
7 D Cunego (It) Lampre - ISD at 6min 5sec
8 I Basso (It) Liquigas-Cannondale at 7min 23sec
9 T Danielson (US) Team Garmin-Cervelo at 8min 15sec
10 J-C Peraud (Fr) AG2R La Mondiale at 10min 11sec
Selected others: 31 G Thomas (GB) Sky Procycling at 1hr 00min 48sec; 76 D Millar (GB) Team Garmin-Cervelo at 2hr 14min 56sec; 130 M Cavendish (GB) HTC-Highroad at 3hr 15min 5sec; 137 B Swift (GB) Sky Procycling at 3hr 18min 7secs
Final points classification: 1 M Cavendish (GB) HTC-Highroad 334pts; 2 J J R Gil (Sp) Movistar Team 272; 3 P Gilbert (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto 236.
Overall Team Standings: 1 Team Garmin - Cervelo 258hr 18min 49sec; 2 Team Leopard-Trek 258hr 29min 53secs; 3 AG2R La Mondiale 258hr 30min 9sec; 6 Sky Procycling 259hr 17min 13sec.
Overall Mountains Classification: 1 S Sz Gonzalez (Sp) Euskaltel-Euskadi 108pts; 2 A Schleck (Lux) Leopard Trek 98; 3 J Vanendert (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto 74.
Best Young Rider: 1 P Rolland (Fr) Team Europcar 86hr 23min 05sec; 2 R Taaramae (Est) Cofidis, Le Crédit En Ligne at 46sec; 3 J Coppel (Fr) Saur - Sojasun at 7min 53sec; 7 G Thomas (GB) Sky Procycling at 50min 5sec.Reuse content