And then, last Friday, came the last amazing kilometre of the Tour’s 18th stage.
With Luis Leon Sanchez of Spain – one of his chief rivals for Saturday’s Olympic road race crown – and Nicholas Roche way out in front, there seemed no chance of the sprint finish that is Cavendish’s speciality.
This year, in Sky’s colours, he has not had a team dedicated to leading him out for those sprints, as he had in previous Tours with HTC-Highroad. But Sky did have the top two men in the race.
And there, suddenly, were those top two, the magnificent Wiggins and his amazing sidekick Chris Froome, leading Cavendish into a position from which he might – just possibly – win the stage.
Which he duly did with a breathtaking burst of power that left Sanchez and Roche, who had thought they were contesting the finish, a sudden 15 lengths behind.
It was not a normal Cavendish victory. But it was, in a way, one of the most impressive of all his 23 stage wins.After that, the emphatic nature of his fourth successive last-day victory on the Champs Elysees was no more than we expected. And there again was Wiggins, augmenting his own victory parade, by leading Cavendish out into that final triumphant straight.
Those two rides were proof positive that the Tour has not exhausted Cav but brought him in tip-top form into the Olympic challenge that he has always said was his prime objective this year.
And that – even with nine circuits of a sapping Box Hill circuit to negotiate – the Manxman is rightly the favourite for Saturday’s gold.He will have Wiggins and Froome on his side again, and this time Britain’s first ever Tour de France winner will be there purely to help Cav’s cause.
The co-operative spirit in the Sky team was one of the great joys of this most joyous of Tours de France.
It is a huge testament to team chief Dave Brailsford that he has brought together such individual talents – the Norwegian Edvald Boasson Hagen is another who might have been a team captain himself – and got them working so well together.
It is a fabulous thing for British cycling to have a Tour winner, two years ahead of the ambitious five-year schedule Brailsford set when Team Sky was formed in 2010.To have a British one-two in Wiggins and Froome is almost beyond a dream. Wiggin’s fourth place in 2009 was as good as it had ever been for a British rider before.
This year Wiggins has won Paris-Nice, the Tour of Romandie, the Critérium du Dauphiné and now the Tour. Brailsford wasn’t joking, or exaggerating, when he called it “probably the highest sustained level of performance by any British athlete”.
It would be no exaggeration, either, to describe Brailsford’s successes – first as performance director of GB Cyling in Athens and Beijing and now with Sky on the roads of France – as the highest sustained achievement of any British coach.
Like most high achievers, Brailsford makes it sound easy.
“It’s all about doing the simple things better than anybody else,” he explains, simply.
Having built the best British teams ever on both the track and the road, Brailsford now wants to make Sky the best cycling team ever.
First there’s the matter of masterminding Olympic gold for Cavendish. Then one for Wiggins in the time-trial. Plus of course a few on the track for Vicky Pendleton, Laura Trott, Chris Hoy and company.Simple.
THERE are two ways of looking at the Olympics.
You can look forward eagerly to the greatest concentration of the greatest sporting contests this country has ever seen. And wish it was possible to watch more than the tiniest part of the action.
Or you can deplore the commercialism of what one commentator has called “a £9billion promotion for the world’s worst companies”.
Which of these attitudes is right?
The aggressive protection of the Olympic “brand” and those of its commercial sponsors and partners (no, I don’t understand the difference, either) is even more deplorable than the fiasco over security. (Who ever thought that a private company could be relied on to deliver all that’s required there?)For some the Olympic motto seems to be not “Faster, higher, stronger” but “Richer, greedier, pushier”.
But none of that is the fault of the athletes who have devoted so much of their lives to being the best they can be at just the right moment.
You may not be able to take the “wrong” food into the Olympic Park, drink the “wrong” beer, withdraw cash with the “wrong” card, or even wear a shirt with the “wrong” logo. All of which is disgraceful and brings both Britain and the Games into disrepute.
But you can relish the sport and cheer the team without signing up to any of that nonsense.