Cycling: Cavendish takes World Road Race title to justify 'fastest sprinter' claims
A few minutes after winning the opening stage of the 2008 Tour of Ireland in Waterford, Mark Cavendish pointed to a shop on the opposite side of the road.
"You see that shop?" he enquired. "If I say that shop is red, then I'm simply stating a fact. If I say I'm the fastest rider in the world, then I'm simply stating a fact. I'm not saying I'm the strongest rider in the world. I'm not saying I'm the best climber in the world but I am the fastest rider in the world and that's not being big headed. That's a fact."
'The fastest sprinter in the world' is a moniker Cavendish has unofficially claimed for the past four years. Yesterday, however, he made it official when he beat the best riders from 30 nations to take his first World Road Race title in Copenhagen.
At the end of a mammoth 266km race, the 'Manx Express' did what he does best and outsprinted Australian Matt Goss, German Andre Greipel and the rest of the field to claim the rainbow jersey of world champion.
It was a victory that had been three years in the pipeline. Yesterday's course was the first one that suited him in that time, the relatively flat Danish circuit, even the slight uphill finish, perfect for Cavendish's sprint.
"We knew we could win this race three years ago when the course was announced," said an ecstatic Cavendish before mounting the podium to collect his gold medal and jersey.
"We put a plan together and you could see how well the guys rode and I'm so proud of what they did. It's incredible."
The only thing that could have scuppered the game plan was a group going clear and staying away to contest the finish.
Although several breakaways did slip away during the course of the five hour, 40 minute race, a large group even managing to build up a seven-minute lead, Cavendish's British team controlled the pace behind so well that they were all reeled in with just 6km to go, setting the stage for a mass gallop to the line.
Although Australia, Germany and Spain all fought the British squad for top spot in the final 4km, Geraint Thomas and Ian Stannard led the race into the final corner and despite being boxed in with 500m to go, Cavendish found an opening in the last 150m and jumped clear of the rest to take the title ahead of Australia's Matt Goss and Germany's Andre Greipel.
"I had to win," said Cavendish afterwards. "We had eight guys, eight of the best guys in the world and we took on the race from start to finish and I couldn't let them down after all the work they put in."
Even after 20 stage wins at the Tour de France in just four years and the green jersey this year, Cavendish could not officially call himself the fastest sprinter in the world, until now.
Matt Brammeier finished best of the Irish trio in the race, crossing the line in 36th place, with Nicolas Roche 51st and Daniel Martin, who had been involved in an earlier move, 90th.