Bradley Wiggins this afternoon crowned the greatest day in British cycling history by not only becoming the first rider from these shores to win the Tour de France, but also leading world champion Mark Cavendish under the flamme rouge to set up the world champion for his fourth consecutive victory on the Champs Elysees, his first there for Team Sky.
When the team was launched in 2010, Dave Brailsford attracted derision when he said its aim was to produce a British winner of the Tour de France within five years. They have achieved that with time to spare, and what's more there is also a British runner-up in the shape of Chris Froome.
With thousands of British fans lining the closing circuit in Paris today, it will be some party in the French capital tonight - Wiggins, Froome and Cavendish however will head to join up with Team GB, with the Olympic road race now less than a week away. With Wiggins today achieving one of the most historic victories ever by a British athlete in any sport, it's a great way to kick off the week in which London 2012 starts.
On a day when the record books were rewritten, one statistic that jumps out is that Cavendish, awarded the accolade of the Tour de France’s greatest ever sprinter a little over a week ago, is now indisputably its most successful.
Not only has he never been beaten on the Champs-Elysées on the four occasions he has finished the Tour de France, but today was his 23rd stage win in the race, putting him ahead of André Darrigade who racked up 22 victories between 1953 and 1964. Cavendish has overhauled that record in half the time.
A man who helped lead Cavendish to one of those Champs-Elysées victories, his former HTC-Columbia team mate George Hincapie, was himself setting a record on this year’s Tour as he made his seventeenth and final participation in the race.
Hincapie, now with BMC Racing, who has completed the race on sixteen of those occasions, was today given the honour of leading the peloton onto the Champs-Elysées for the first of a little over eight laps of frantic racing ahead of the final sprint for the line.
Usually, tradition has it that the maillot jaune’s team leads the man who is the Tour’s winner in waiting onto the famous avenue, but certainly Team Sky weren’t complaining, a helpful nudge in the back from one of their riders helping propel the American to the front of the race for the last time.
Earlier, the peloton had rolled in from Rambouillet, located to the southwest of the French capital, at the usual sedate pace that marks the early part of the final stage of the Tour,
The classification winners – Peter Sagan and Tejay Van Garderen respectively in the green and white jerseys and Thomas Voeckler in polka dot, well, everything – lined up with Wiggins for the obligatory photocall.
Once onto the Rue de Rivoli and the closing circuit, however, racing began in earnest. Joining Hincapie in jumping off the front was another 39-year-old, RadioShack Nissan’s Chris Horner.
A number of other riders managed to jump across to them, the composition of the group kept changing as the peloton snapped at their heels.
Ultimately it was the oldest rider in the race, Horner’s team mate Jens Voigt, who managed to lead the break that stuck, initially attacking with fellow German Danilo Hondo of Lampre-ISD. Lars Bak of Lotto Belisol, who had been in the break of last year’s Tour, also got across, with others attacking behind him.
The group of 11 that eventually formed did their best to stay out as long as they could, but with Liquigas-Cannondale joining Team Sky in leading the chase and Lotto-Belisol and Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank also moving to the front of the peloton inside the final lap, the break was doomed and the last escapees were caught with a little under 3 kilometres left.
After emerging from the tunnel beneath the Tuileries gardens and turning hard left at Norwegian Corner opposite the gilded statue of Joan of Arc onto the Rue de Rivoli, Team Sky were tearing along at the front of the peloton hunting for the perfect end to a Tour in which they have provided a tactical masterclass.
Wiggins himself put in a long stint towing the peloton along, peeling off on the Place de la Concorde, rivals all over the road as they tried to find the line through that would somehow give them a chance of challenging Cavendish for the win.
No-one knows the final corner like the Manxman, however, and as he Edvald Boasson Hagen led him out of it, Cavendish came out of the Norwegian’s slipstream and powered home ahead of Sagan and former HTC Highroad team mate, Matt Goss.
In the last three editions of the race, Cavendish’s final day victories, including last year’s confirmation of his points classification victory, have been the high spots of the Tour for British fans.
It’s a sign of the growing strength of British cycling that today’s win was simply icing on the cake to what will go down as the Tour when Bradley Wiggins made history and became the first rider ever to bring the maillot jaune back across the Channel.
Tour de France winner Bradley Wiggins, Team Sky:
“It's hard to take in as it happens. Every lap of the Champs-Elysées was goosepimple stuff. We had a job to do with Mark today and we were all motivated to do that so it made it go a lot quicker. The concentration was high and for Mark to finish it off like that... well, it couldn't get any better.
“I don't actually know what to say that I haven't already said yesterday. It's brilliant. But I'm lost for words. It's a different feeling to 24 hours ago but we've come here and we were committed to what we were doing so there was no sense of, ‘Oh, this is it.' It was so hard once the race started and, right to the end, when I was leading out with a kilometre to go. Right now, at the base of the podium, I'm trying to soak it all in and it's hard to articulate what I'm feeling. It's a strange feeling, really – very strange.
“Now we've come out of our bubble and now we start to realise what it means to all these people who have come over here for the weekend. That turn [near the Arc de Triomphe] was just a sea of Brits and the noise was incredible. It was close to what it was like at the Olympics in Athens when I was coming into the home straight. It's that kind of feeling. It's phenomenal. You couldn't fail to hear it.
“Tonight I go home. Everything turns to the Olympics and I'll be out on the bike tomorrow and I've got an Olympic time trial to try and win. So that's a higher priority than anything else. It's a little weird to leave Paris without a party because it would be nice to spend time with the team and really enjoy it. This has been – as everyone's seen – such a team effort. Even today, it was an incredible group of guys. I've had the privilege to ride with them for the past three weeks; it's been an absolute honour.
“You imagine that you'd feel an enormous sense of relief but you get there and it's a very strange feeling. I remember watching Cadel win it last year and thinking, ‘God, that must be incredible!' But it happens to you and it doesn't feel as you imagine it to feel. It's a strange sensation. It's very surreal.”
Stage winner Mark Cavendish, Team Sky:
“After getting first and second on GC, winning five stages – or, whatever... how many was it before today – it wasn't going to be an unsuccessful Tour by any means. I'm just happy to get that final win today. We had the whole team on the front and it was an incredible sight.
“I'm very ready for the Olympics now. Between four of the five guys who are in the Olympic Games squad, there are seven stage wins at the Tour de France so we're going to have an incredibly strong team and we're not just going to the Games to see how it goes. We're fully excited about it and we'll just wait for next Saturday.
“My legs are really good. You've seen my sprint is really good and I just like getting to the finish. I've got an incredible team to try and do that in London four out of five of us have won stages here... between us we have one out of every three stages of this year's Tour. As a nation in the cycling world, there's nothing better than that.
“It was great for British cycling fans to see what they saw today: guys who are first and second on GC in the Tour de France controlling the peloton and the yellow jersey leading it out at the last kilometre... and me winning for a fourth time here. I'm incredibly proud of an incredible three weeks that came to a close today.
“It was a sea of blue, white and red flags and it's incredible to see that in Paris.”
Tour de France runner-up, Chris Froome, Team Sky:
“I'm blown away by what we as a team have achieved these last three weeks as a team; it's monumental. Also, for a team that's relatively new to cycling – this is only the third year for Team Sky now – so for us to have two riders standing on the top two steps of the podium on the Champs-Elysées... it's really something special. Hopefully it's set the precedent for us going forward in the future.
“I surprised myself. I knew I had very good condition coming into this race but you never know where your opposition is at and I was never confident that I would be right at the top of the sport. I'm really happy to be in this position and I hope to keep competing like this in the future.
“I might not need to change my team to be a winner of the Tour de France. I'd love to win it one day and let's see... I've learned so much this year being right there at the front of the race but not having the pressure of being the leader. I'm going to take that experience away and hopefully learn for the future.
“I never saw this day coming so I couldn't be happier.”
Dave Brailsford, Team Principal at Team Sky:
"I’m very proud. It’s quite emotional. When I got into cycling, nobody else knew about it, but to see all those British flags on the roadside in Paris was phenomenal and I want to thank everybody for coming and thanks for all the support around the world.
"It's been an amazing Tour for us. Bradley has had an amazing race and demonstrated he was the best rider in it by finishing with a time trial like that on Saturday.
"We're very lucky to have both Chris and Brad on the same team. This was a Tour that suited Bradley. He's climbing really well, his time trialling's been off the scale and now I think you can see why we stuck with him.
"I couldn't be prouder to have worked with both Bradley and Chris. For Bradley to have won this race, as a British rider - which has never been done before - with a British team with a fantastic British sponsor, it's the stuff of dreams
"I'd never have said that we could do it unless I really believed that we could. A lot of people laughed when we said that we could win this race in five years with a clean British rider. But we were serious about it, we'd done our homework, we knew what Bradley was capable of and what a British team would be capable of - and we set about it.
"From a team perspective we'd like to build on this and I'd like to think this is not just a one-off. The staff and riders should take time and reflect a little bit now but we're building a team for the future here which we want to keep on progressing and coming back to this race to do it all again."
“I can’t allow this achievement to sink in yet. I’m flying straight out of Paris and into the Great Britain training camp in Newport to prepare for the Olympic Games. My thoughts turned to that almost as soon as Brad had stepped off the podium. As I said, everyone else should savour the moment but I can’t wait to get into that Olympic arena now with a British team and show the whole world what we’re made of. “
Tour de France Stage 20 result 1 CAVENDISH Mark SKY PROCYCLING 03h 08' 07'' 2 SAGAN Peter LIQUIGAS-CANNONDALE + 00' 00'' 3 GOSS Matthew Harley ORICA GREENEDGE 4 HAEDO Juan Jose TEAM SAXO BANK-TINKOFF BANK 5 BOECKMANS Kris VACANSOLEIL-DCM 6 HENDERSON Gregory LOTTO-BELISOL TEAM 7 BOZIC Borut ASTANA PRO TEAM 8 GREIPEL André LOTTO-BELISOL TEAM 9 BOASSON HAGEN Edvald SKY PROCYCLING 10 ENGOULVENT Jimmy SAUR-SOJASUN 11 FARRAR Tyler GARMIN-SHARP 12 DE KORT Koen TEAM ARGOS-SHIMANO 13 PAOLINI Luca KATUSHA TEAM 14 GENE Yohann TEAM EUROPCAR 15 HINAULT Sébastien AG2R LA MONDIALE 16 PEREZ MORENO Ruben EUSKALTEL - EUSKADI + 00' 04'' 17 BRAJKOVIC Janez ASTANA PRO TEAM 18 MARCATO Marco VACANSOLEIL-DCM 19 KASHECHKIN Andrey ASTANA PRO TEAM 20 DUMOULIN Samuel COFIDIS LE CREDIT EN LIGNE Last man home on Stage 20 153 HONDO Danilo LAMPRE - ISD + 00' 09'' Final General Classification 1 WIGGINS Bradley SKY PROCYCLING 87h 34' 47'' 2 FROOME Christopher SKY PROCYCLING + 03' 21'' 3 NIBALI Vincenzo LIQUIGAS-CANNONDALE + 06' 19'' 4 VAN DEN BROECK Jurgen LOTTO-BELISOL TEAM + 10' 15'' 5 VAN GARDEREN Tejay BMC RACING TEAM + 11' 04'' 6 ZUBELDIA Haimar RADIOSHACK-NISSAN + 15' 41'' 7 EVANS Cadel BMC RACING TEAM + 15' 49'' 8 ROLLAND Pierre TEAM EUROPCAR + 16' 26'' 9 BRAJKOVIC Janez ASTANA PRO TEAM + 16' 33'' 10 PINOT Thibaut FDJ-BIGMAT + 17' 17'' Final Points Classification 1 SAGAN Peter LIQUIGAS-CANNONDALE 421 pts 2 GREIPEL André LOTTO-BELISOL TEAM 280 pts 3 GOSS Matthew ORICA GREENEDGE 268 pts 4 CAVENDISH Mark SKY PROCYCLING 220 pts 5 BOASSON HAGEN Edvald SKY PROCYCLING 160 pts Final Mountains Classification 1 VOECKLER Thomas TEAM EUROPCAR 135 pts 2 KESSIAKOFF Fredrik ASTANA PRO TEAM 123 pts 3 SORENSEN Chris Anker TEAM SAXO BANK-TINKOFF BANK 77 pts 4 ROLLAND Pierre TEAM EUROPCAR 63 pts 5 VALVERDE Alejandro MOVISTAR TEAM 51 pts Final Young Rider's Classification 1 VAN GARDEREN Tejay BMC RACING TEAM 87h 45' 51'' 2 PINOT Thibaut FDJ-BIGMAT + 06' 13'' 3 KRUIJSWIJK Steven RABOBANK CYCLING TEAM + 01h 05' 48'' 4 TAARAMAE Rein COFIDIS + 01h 16' 48'' 5 IZAGUIRRE Gorka EUSKALTEL - EUSKADI + 01h 21' 15''
Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.