Opinion: Tour de France recap: Cavendish captivates, Froome flies, Wiggins wins

It was the best of times, it was the best of times.

I know, I know, it’s cheesy. But even Dickens would forgive my crass and unoriginal appropriation of one of his most famous lines once he fully comprehended the scene that unfolded in Paris on Sunday, undoubtedly the greatest day in the history of British cycling.

First overall. Second overall. First on the stage. All accomplished, fantastically, by three men united by contract and country.

There was Mark Cavendish, triumphantly claiming his third stage win of this year’s Tour in emphatic and dominant fashion. It was his fourth win on the Champs-Élysées, but his first while wearing the rainbow jersey of the world champion. In fact, it was the first time any reigning world champion had won on the Tour’s final day, an accomplishment that Cavendish fully comprehended and relished.

There was Chris Froome, a brilliant mountain climber who worked hard to bring back the day’s requisite breakaway, which came frighteningly close to succeeding, and set up the win for Cavendish. In finishing the day’s stage free of crash and calamity, Froome secured a well-deserved second place in the general classification, 3’21″ behind the winner and light-years ahead of everybody else. That placing would have made him the first Briton ever to step on the final podium in a Tour de France, bettering Robert Millar’s all-but-forgotten fourth place from 1984.

Would have, that is, if not for Bradley Wiggins.

And so there was Bradley Wiggins, a former track rider who has now officially won cycling’s toughest test. A true champion, he doggedly matched every attack thrown at him in the highest of mountains (albeit with a major assist from Froome, who frequently appeared to be the only rider stronger than his leader), throttled the cream of the international peloton against the clock on two separate occasions, and even played the role of faithful teammate when circumstances demanded that he do so.

Which is why it was Wiggins doing his best 500 meter time trial in the closing moments of Sunday’s stage–not for personal glory or for time gains, but for the sake of his teammate Cavendish. Only when he was utterly spent did Wiggins swing off the front, only to be replaced by the faithful Edvald Boasson Hagen. Boasson Hagen is a remarkable sprinter in his own right, not to mention a rider who swashbuckled his way to two stage wins after Wiggins crashed out of last year’s Tour. But today, nothing could be further from the mind of the faithful Norwegian, who put his head down and powered toward the line.

Once he swung off, it was left to the man they call the “Manx Missile” to launch himself to the finish line. And launch he did.

Game, set, match to the Brits.

Afterward, each of the three Sky cyclists struggled to find the right superlatives.

Cavendish: “Today, winning on the Champs-Elysees, was a big red cherry on top of a beautifully made cake for three weeks and it was an honour to be part of it.”

Froome: “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 is really something special. Hopefully it’s set the precedent for us going forward in the future.

Wiggins (with tongue decidedly in-cheek at times): “We’re just going to draw the raffle numbers now…I just want to say thank you to everyone for the support all the way around. It has been a magical couple of weeks for the team and British Cycling. Sometimes dreams come true and to my mother over there, her son has now won the Tour de France. Have a safe journey home and don’t get too drunk tonight.”

Incredibly, the sudden dominance of those competing under the Union Jack on cycling’s biggest stage may not have crescendoed just yet. The Olympics–held, auspiciously, in London–are just around the corner, with the time trial scheduled for August 1 and the road race less than a week away on July 28. Cavendish is the odds-on favorite for the latter of the two, and after his utter dominance in this year’s time trials on the roads of France, few would scoff at the notion that Wiggins could cop gold in that discipline across the Channel, eight years after he won three medals as a track sprinter in Athens.

Imagine. The newly-crowned winner of the Tour de France winning the Olympic time trial, perhaps even with Froome snatching a medal as well–after all, he defeated all but Wiggins by robust margins in both long time trials at the Tour. The world champion, fresh off winning three more stages to add to his already legendary Tour ledger, outkicking the world to take gold.

Three potential medalists. All British. In London.

If, last year, I showed a movie script with this story to anyone who is anyone in Hollywood (or anywhere else, for that matter), I would have been laughed right out of the room and advised to switch from sports to fantasies.

Nobody is laughing now, though. Nobody, that is, except the British, and theirs is a laughter markedly more joyful than that of my imaginary movie executives.

For them, the best of times may be on the verge of becoming even better.