The Manxman ended his 12 months in the rainbow jersey of world road race champion in the grand style yesterday, taking his 15th victory of 2012 in Guildford's cobbled high street. The overall title in the British Tour went to the Devonian climber Jonathan Tiernan-Locke, the first home winner of the relaunched event since its inception in 2004, but Cavendish had started the stage determined to honour the rainbow jersey to the very last pedal stroke, and he lived up to his word on an uphill finish that was not ideal for his sprint talents, on paper at least.
"I really wanted to win on my last day in the rainbow jersey, so that I could go out in style," he said after being greeted at the finish by his partner Peta Todd and their daughter Delilah. "The team were incredible. There were breaks going all day but they took me all the way to the line. I'm really happy."
Cavendish made a point of thanking the crowd for their support. They have been massive all through the race's eight days and it was the same all through Surrey. "There was so much support on the road out there, it was like the Olympic Games, but it's been like that all round the country, rain or shine. It was really nice to see."
Cavendish has worn the legendary rainbow stripes with immense pride, well aware of his status as the first British professional to wear them since Tom Simpson in 1965. His victory tally for 2012 that includes three stages in both the Giro d'Italia and the Tour de France and the Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne semi-classic, as well as wins in events as diverse as the Tour of Qatar and the Tour of Denmark. His haul for this week was three stages, in Dumfries and Blackpool as well as in Guildford.
The final kilometres of the stage were controlled by Team Sky with Cavendish's personal watchdog Bernhard Eisel and the veteran Jeremy Hunt – who is set to retire at the end of this year after a career dating back to 1996 – doing much of the hard yards. But there was a major hiccup about 40km from the finish when the German team NetApp applied massive pressure on the short, steep climb of Barhatch Lane, hoping to dislodge Cavendish.
The peloton split to pieces with Tiernan-Locke prominent as he has been all week whenever the going has got tough. Behind, however, Cavendish looked to be struggling momentarily but he and Sky, together with the race leader's Endura Racing team all kept their cool and brought the race back together. Coming into the finish, the world champion slipped back briefly before making his final effort as the road reared upwards, with the Dutchman Boy van Poppel trailing in his wake.
After running out the overall winner of the British Tour, 18sec clear of the Australian Nathan Haas, Tiernan-Locke will join Cavendish next week when the Manxman rides in defence of his jersey on a hilly course in Limburg. In the further future the Devonian is expected to join Team Sky, where Cavendish may or may not be his team-mate depending on whether he negotiates an exit from the squad.
This was a consummate victory that had looked likely from the first serious climbs in the Peak District last Monday, given Tiernan-Locke's obvious strength whenever the road went uphill. He took the leader's jersey after ripping the field to shreds on the twin climbs of Caerphilly Mountain on Friday afternoon, then reinforced his lead on Saturday in his native Devon.
Tiernan-Locke finished fifth in his home Tour last year for the Rapha-Condor-Sharp team, who had revitalised his career after he took several years out to deal with the Epstein-Barr virus; this season he made headlines early on with victories in the Tour of the Mediterranean and Tour du Haut Var. But winning his home race when he was so strong and expected to do so was another massive stepping stone for the 27-year-old former mountain biker, who had further strengthened his credentials as the next big thing in British cycling, behind Cavendish, Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome.
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