Not that the old ones were not fantastic, right. Although this edition of Le Grand Shindig has been on the dull side in terms of the GC battle, what we have witnessed is the maturation and even wider talents of Bradley Wiggins and Mark Cavendish of Sky.
Wiggins has won every stage race he has entered this season but there were still critics who questioned whether he could handle the mental pressures of the tour over a three week period. WHen he took the yellow jersey early on, that question became even larger. How would be deal with the relentless tour media each day?
Quite well, as it turns out. He’s had his snippy moment lashing out at “bone-idlers” but he quickly shifted gears and a few days later have a detailed and thoughtful and personal statement on doping.
He has also shown complete command of his teammates and the confidence to use them well. Try as the media did to create a Hinault-Lemond battle between Wiggins and Froome, Wiggins by and large stayed above the fray and kept his focus. That’s no small task and few of us could begin to understand how mentally exhausting it is to wear le maillot jaune for two weeks.
Twisted Spoke agrees it would have been smart and generous to give Froome a shot at a stage win at Peyregudes but Wiggins took it upon himself to try leading out Boasson Hagen for a stage win and did the same for Cavendish today with better results in Bive La Gaillarde.
In short, Wiggins has raised his performance both physically and mentally for this Tour. It’s a far cry from the miserable, stressed-out and over-burdened Wiggins in his first attempt with Sky at the 2010 Tour.
Much the same can be said of the World Road Race champion, Member of the British Empire and world’s fastest sprinter Mark Cavendish. There’s a huge ego and massive expectations that go with those three titles — and you can add his 21 Tour stage wins.
For the last few seasons, Cavendish has owned the Tour, taking five wins in 2010 and 2011. So how many people would have expected Cavendish to spend most of this tour working for Wiggins? And yet that’s exactly what he did, even pulling the peloton along on one to two of the smaller mountains. He didn’t whine about missed sprint opportunities or lack of team support for his sprints. That signaled Cavendish’s class.
Cavendish is famous for always thanking his team when he wins a sprint. Sometimes that seems like the usual BS but we’ve learned in this Tour that Cavendish means it. He’s more than willing to put his own goals aside when the team made the decision that everyone rides for Wiggins. Cavendish has shown a new maturity and the confidence and flexibility to change his goals and tactics.
He came into Le Tour knowing he’d have to freelance without a train. In a brilliant response to critics who always wondered what he could do sans train, he showcased skills we hadn’t seen before. In his stage 2 win in Tournai he jumped from wheel to wheel, picking his spots, weaving thru high speed traffic, riding with experience and superb instincts. No train, no problem.
Today in stage 18 Cavendish again showed his talents and confidence. Bradley Wiggins and Sky got him close and then it was all Manx Missile as he rocketed past Luis Leon Sanchez (Rabobank) and Nicolas Roche (AG2R) in the final 200 meters. Instinct, improv, power and blazing speed.
This is a Cavendish who switched his training to prepare for the Olympic Road Race in London. He’s leaner and lighter than he’s ever been and some questioned whether he’d lost his top end speed. Consider this: with almost no team support he’s still won two stages and is the odds on favorite to win in Paris on the Champs Elysees. With Wiggins’ yellow jersey assured, Cavendish will finally get the full Sky train behind him.
That would be three wins despite putting himself at the service of his team captain for three weeks. Impressive stuff. Chapeau to the new Wiggins and Cavendish.