As sport fans it is often tricky to truly understand the significance of what an individual or group of athletes has achieved. We often leave it too late, until those very sportsmen and women have retired before it finally hits home. It is something we really ought not to be guilty of doing with two of the finest athletes to ever get on a bike for Great Britain and two icons of cycling, Sir Bradley Wiggins and Mark Cavendish. We won’t get that many more chances to catch them competing in the sport’s biggest events. As such, we should relish their latest triumph, in which they partnered up and won the Madison World Title in London, and what could be a final swansong for the duo as teammates at the Rio Olympics this summer.
Their win, in the closing event of the week, topped off a magnificent World Championships for Great Britain as they finished on top of the medals table in the same Lee Valley Velopark in which they dominated at the London 2012 Olympics. The win for Wiggins and Cavendish in this 200-lap, 50-kilometre race replicated their same achievement together at the World Championships in Manchester 8 years ago. They accumulated the points on offer in the sprints that occurred every 20 laps early on before later timing their attack perfectly to gain the lap on their rivals that sealed the deal. A crash for Cavendish 11 laps from the finish nearly threw a spanner into their spokes but they still crossed the line together, arms raised in delight. The combination of Wiggin’s mastery of riding solo and Cavendish’s ability to provide equally vital surges of pace and power were simply too much for the rest of the field. It was redemption for both after their failure in the event together in the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
As individuals it is important to put their respective careers into perspective. This was Cavendish’s third world title at this gruelling discipline, 11 years after his first. The 30-year old is widely regarded as one of the best sprinters of his era and has won an incredible 26 individual stages at the Tour de France, putting him third on the all-time list. In total, his 44 Grand Tour stage wins makes him the fourth most successful in Tour history. Then there was of course the road World Championship he won in 2011.
When he became the first Britain to win the Tour de France before then securing Olympic gold in the road time trial, Wiggins cemented his position as one of his country’s greatest ever athletes. Before that he had already secured 3 track Olympic gold medals. Wiggins, who was knighted in 2013, has 7 track world championship golds, a world time trial title and the Hour Record he gained last year. He has won a number of the sport’s toughest stage races in addition to that Tour win, including the Tour of California, the Tour of Britain and Paris-Nice. The list could go on. He is one of a select few cyclists who have been able to gain significant success in both forms of cycling.
However, what is fascinating about these two great champions, and something that was reflected by their latest achievement, is how their remarkable international careers have been entwined for the last eight years. The 200 laps of this event felt like the most symbolic chapter yet of their shared sporting history. They disappointingly fell short in Beijing when billed as favourites but then started their rise together the following year in the Tour, Wiggins working towards being one of the finest overall stage race winners and Cavendish towards becoming the preeminent sprinter on the planet. At key points they have worked in tandem. For example, it was Wiggins who pushed hard at the front to help Cavendish capture his World Road title in Copenhagen and also during his Tour win to enable his Team Sky colleague to win stages at Paris and Brive. This latest, and potentially last, joint act will live long in the memory.
So what next for this iconic duo? For Wiggins, it is to finish off what has been a hugely successful final stage of his career by winning gold at Rio, which he has confirmed will be his final event in top-level cycling. The Tour of California waits before training for Brazil begins in earnest. For Cavendish, it will be to continue a focus on the track, that will have been fuelled by this accomplishment in London, in order to gain the Olympic medal that currently eludes him. He is not certain of making the cut for Team GB and may well have to weigh up competing in the Tour de France against the Olympic Games. If he chooses the latter he could be riding alongside Wiggins one final time as part of the team pursuit.
Winning a World Championship gold together again was a fitting tribute to the outstanding careers that Wiggins and Cavendish have had, both as immensely talented individuals and hard-working teammates. If they can get one more title together this summer at the Olympics it would be a perfect way to end one of the finest double acts British sport has had. Let’s just make sure that we savour it all if it happens.