Tour de France: Will Manxman take Sky road to reach new heights?

Cavendish's hunting tripincreases speculation over a change of team after a Tour of British successes

If Mark Cavendish's three-year hunt for the green jersey came to a glorious conclusion yesterday and made him the first British rider on the Tour podium in 27 years, overall the Tour 2011 also represented a huge step forwards for UK cycling. And that was without knowing what Bradley Wiggins could have got up to, either.

Spearheading it all, though, is a 26-year-old former Lloyds Bank clerk from the Isle of Man: Cavendish's 20 stage wins unquestionably make him one of the Tour greats, regardless of nationality, if only because it is so rare for sprinters to dominate for so long, so consistently.

From 2008 through to 2011, without exception, "Cav" has been the fastman to beat, even if, with the exception of 2009, the other Tours have seen a tricky start for the Manxman. But once the stages started to roll in, they have not stopped – with, this year, one in Châteauroux, where Cavendish took his first ever Tour victory, completing a historical circle with identical gestures as he crossed the line.

If Cavendish's ongoing success will remain the pinnacle of cycling achievements for Great Britain in the Tour at an individual level, then Sky have without a doubt made huge inroads for the country collectively.

In no particular order, this year has produced a third place in the team time trial, two stage wins for Edvald Boasson Hagen, spells in the white jersey of Best Young Rider for Geraint Thomas and Rigoberto Uran, a superb mountain attack on Luz Ardiden for Thomas, top 10 sprint places for Thomas and Ben Swift, and numerous breakaways in general.

All this put Sky on the map. Most importantly of all, though, was how the team reacted to Bradley Wiggins' early abandon after he crashed out with a broken collarbone.

This decapitated the squad's overall ambitions at a stroke but left the squad open to explore their own individual chances. And the results could not have been more positive.

"There's a huge amount of potential [for Sky and Great Britain]. It's a term that's overused but it's genuinely there," Chris Boardman – three times a prologue winner of the Tour in the Nineties and for many years Britain's only representative in the race – told The Independent.

"Take Geraint [Thomas], for example, he really has discovered the full scale of what he can do in the Tour. On Thursday's Alpine stage, for example, the way he was climbing on the Galibier even though he was assisting another team-mate [Uran, defending his Best Young Rider lead] was brilliant.

"He's got a complete set of talents" – time trialling, sprinting and climbing – "and he's shown in this race that the potential is there for him to climb with the best."

Nor does Boardman think that we have seen the end to Cavendish's achievements with his clinching – finally – the green jersey this year.

"Cavendish, in any case, is just incredible, the best rider we've ever produced. To be that consistent is quite amazing.

"I say 'produced', though Cavendish is really a self-made man. We did a lot of work with him but he's done it mostly himself." Although Cavendish, if asked, would almost certainly give a huge amount of the credit for his success to his current team, HTC-Highroad.

But for all Boardman is deeply impressed with Britain's achievements, he in fact feels that it could have been more – with Wiggins.

"Sky, too, have been a proper Tour squad, they've been in every move and they had a genuine overall contender with Bradley. It's 'could've, would've' territory, but we'd have been looking at the podium at least.

"On the final climb to the Galibier, he would have been the strongest time trialist in the [chasing] group [behind winner, Andy Schleck]. Maybe that would have worked. But two stage wins, active for the entire race – it's amazing."

The next step for Sky, perhaps, would be the widely expected signing of Mark Cavendish for the team next year, but Boardman – who works in research and development with British Cycling – was cautious about it happening, saying: "It's not a done deal."

"I'm not in a position to know, so I'm guessing as much as anybody, but from conversations I've had, it's absolutely not been decided yet."

Boardman points to practical problems as one reason for the Cavendish deal not being certain, given that "if he wants to go to Sky, he would have to take at least one rider with him [from HTC-Highroad]", "at least [wingman Mark] Renshaw and maybe Bernie Eisel". Quite apart from both of them – Renshaw and Eisel – still being under contract with their current squad, according to Boardman "that could change the structure of the team" – and, more importantly, risk diluting its aims.

"I'm struggling to think of a squad that has successfully gone for the overall" – with Wiggins, and perhaps others – "and at the same time gone for sprints."

Boardman is perhaps right to be doubtful: the last team to do so successfully in fact was the German squad, Telekom, back in the mid-Nineties when they won green with Erik Zabel and yellow with Bjarne Riis, then again with Jan Ullrich and Zabel in 1997. There has been a lot of water under the bridge since then.

"It is possible to do. [But] HTC have been successful because they've limited their aims. And for Sky to take Cav on his own – I'm not so sure that's a good idea."

In any case, regardless of the future, while Cavendish has finally captured what could well have been his in 2009 and 2010, Sky have to be treated as a major player.

And as Boardman points out, this is the culmination of a process that goes back to when Sky was first conceived – by the team principal, Dave Brailsford, and his right-hand man, Shane Sutton, before the Olympic Games of 2008.

"The phrase that has really stuck with Sky is 'coming of age'," says Boardman, "and it's what it is; after months and years of looking around and studying and making mistakes, suddenly it looks like Sky have been there for a long time."

Two good...

Best rider

Andy Schleck. His long-distance attack to the Galibier provided a memorable throwback to cycling's golden age.



Most courageous rider

France's unfancied Thomas Voeckler and his Europcar squad for riding out of their skins to defend his lead then winning on Alpe D'Huez, to boot.

.. .two bad

Traffic jams

Five hours to travel 60km (28 miles) off the Alpe D'Huez, four off Luz Ardiden and four to get up the Plateau de Beille all in the small hours of the morning, plus 5,000 kilometres of driving in just three weeks: reporting on golf has never seemed so appealing.



Crashes

They wrecked too many contenders' chances (Wiggins, Vinokourov, Contador) and Flecha and Hoogerland's close encounter with a TV car was, above all, absolutely unnecessary.

Voices
voicesGood for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, writes Grace Dent
Sport
The Pipes and Drums of The Scottish Regiments perform during the Opening Ceremony for the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games at Celtic Park on July 23, 2014 in Glasgow, Scotland.
Commonwealth GamesThe actor encouraged the one billion viewers of the event to donate to the children's charity
Arts and Entertainment
The Tour de France peloton rides over a bridge on the Grinton Moor, Yorkshire, earlier this month
film
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Very tasty: Vladimir Putin dining alone, perhaps sensibly
newsJohn Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
News
The University of California study monitored the reaction of 36 dogs
sciencePets' range of emotions revealed
Arts and Entertainment
The nomination of 'The Wake' by Paul Kingsnorth has caused a stir
books
News
Joining forces: young British men feature in an Isis video in which they urge Islamists in the West to join them in Iraq and Syria
newsWill the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?
News
i100
News
Snoop Dogg pictured at The Hollywood Reporter Nominees' Night in February, 2013
people... says Snoop Dogg
Life and Style
food + drinkZebra meat is exotic and lean - but does it taste good?
News
Bey can do it: Beyoncé re-enacts Rosie the Riveter's pose
newsRosie the Riveter started out as an American wartime poster girl and has become a feminist pin-up. With Beyoncé channeling her look, Gillian Orr tells her story
Life and Style
Donna and Paul Wheatley at their wedding
healthShould emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?
Arts and Entertainment
Residents of Derby Road in Southampton oppose filming of Channel 4 documentary Immigration Street in their community
tv
Voices
voicesSiobhan Norton on why she eventually changed her mind
News
i100
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

BI Manager - £50,000

£49000 - £55000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client is...

BI Project Manager - £48,000 - £54,000 - Midlands

£48000 - £54000 per annum + Benefits package: Progressive Recruitment: My clie...

VB.Net Developer

£35000 - £45000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: If you're pa...

SAP Business Consultant (SD, MM and FICO), £55,000, Wakefield

£45000 - £55000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP Business...

Day In a Page

Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

Take a good look while you can

How climate change could wipe out this seal
Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?

Some couples are allowed emergency hospital weddings, others are denied the right. Kate Hilpern reports on the growing case for a compassionate cutting of the red tape
Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
The 10 best pedicure products

Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
Why do we have blood types?

Are you my type?

All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

Honesty box hotels

Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit