The English start to the 2014 Tour de France surpassed even the wildest dreams of the people of Yorkshire and London who made it happen, with the crowds by the roadside estimated at some 2.5 million per day.
Race director Christian Prudhomme was fulsome in his praise of the start up in the north of the country.
“When you said you would deliver the grandest Grand Départ of the Tour it was the truth. You have raised the bar for all future hosts of the Tour de France,” Prudhomme said.
“I work for the Tour, but I also love the Tour, and I have seen that the people of Yorkshire love the Tour too. I can see the Tour in their hearts, and in their eyes. For that, I say thank you.
“Bernard Hinault [former Tour de France winner] said to me that it is the first time in 40 years on a bike that he has seen crowds like we saw this weekend.”
There was an estimated 60,000 people lining the climb of Holme Moss alone, an astonishing number to anyone who, like myself, has ridden up that lonely, bleak and windswept moor on their own.
More astonishing still was the appearance put in by the sun. Perhaps he got a fee for turning up too.
It was all very English in an un-English sort of way, what with it being the Tour de France and all, and yet the English – or British, if you like – have had something of a stranglehold on the race in the past two years.
With the current champion and the winner before him, as well as the greatest sprinter the Tour has ever seen, all standing under the Union Jack, you’d think the Brits would be over the moon at the moment.
However, one of the three lions didn’t even get a place on the start line and another got himself so giddy at the thought of wearing Yellow on his native soil that he went and rode like a fool and crashed himself out of the whole thing.
That Bradley Wiggins isn’t racing has received enough attention, but it’s worth taking a moment to consider just how irresponsible and reckless Mark Cavendish’s ride was in Stage 1.
There’s something to be said about being a great athlete and a man that commands respect, and there’s even more to say about a great athlete that’s rash and irresponsible.
Compare, if you will, Pele and Diego Maradona, or Mohamed Ali and Mike Tyson.
Maradona was arguably the better footballer, but if you were to choose a role model from the two for youngsters it would be the Brazilian who would win out every time.
Tyson may have been the most ferocious and intimidating heavyweight of all time, and was a brilliant technical boxer too, but Ali’s legend is built on far more than what he achieved in the ring. He is a great man. Tyson is a thug.
Might we be wasting our time to compare Marcel Kittel and Mark Cavendish? Yes, but let’s do it anyway. Cavendish is established and the greatest sprinter of all time. In his first season, 2007, he equaled Alessandro Petacchi’s record of 11 professional wins in a debut season.
In 2009 he became the first Briton since Tommy Simpson to win a Monument, Milan-San Remo. In 2010 he became the first Brit since Robert Millar to win a stage in every Grand Tour, and in 2011 became the first Briton since Simpson to win the World Championships.
In 2012 he became the first man to win on the Champs-Elysees four times in a row, and in the same year he became the most successful sprinter in Tour history with 23 stage wins, giving him more mass start wins than any other rider in the Tour de France, ever.
Some say he’s pretty good. I begrudgingly concur.
Cavendish’s record blows Kittel’s out of the water – it blows everybody’s palmares out of the water, in fact. But Kittel is coming along very nicely indeed. He won yesterday, has now won in every Grand Tour, and he has that air of invincibility about him that is reminiscent of another sprinter at times – namely, Cavendish.
But which would you rather have a beer with? One is affable, approachable and genuinely popular in the bunch, the other is none of those things. While it is true that Cavendish’s nature is an essential component of his success, it is also true that he has been openly disrespectful to other riders (ask Thor Hushovd about that), and that he causes crashes.
Never was this more true than on Stage One. Cavendish’s actions caused the crash, and though he apologised to Simon Gerrans by telephone later, it’s an indication of how dangerous his sprinting was that the OGE team were angered that the UCI had declined to punish the Manx rider for reckless riding.
The reasons for Cavendish’s crash were twofold.
First off, he was desperate to win because he wanted Yellow on home soil. As a result he was eager as a lamb at its mother’s teet for the last 300 all day. Secondly, he does not respect his peers enough.
Had it been Gerrans or another rider that was forced to abandon rather than Cavendish, then the organisers would have been justified in throwing him out of the Tour altogether.
Indeed, had that happened, the injured party might even consider whether he had a legal case against Cavendish.
Milan-San Remo winner Alexander Kristoff of Katusha even went so far as to compare Cavendish to Luis Suarez, the Uruguyan thrown out of the World Cup for biting an opponent.
“Suarez was banned for biting people in football and to me it looked like he crashed on purpose,” Kristoff said.
“At 60 kilometres an hour it’s really dangerous and you can injure people, so it’s not nice of him. In an uphill sprint you loose a bit of control sometimes. It’s not the first time he’s done this.
“I hope he calms down a little bit in the future. He’s a brilliant sprinter but it looks like he lost his head a little bit.”
Lost his head and lost his chance to prove that he still has the beating of an improved Kittel. Lost too even more respect from his peers, as well as wasted all the hard work his team would have put in during training to get ready for this race.
Kristoff will not be alone in his criticism of Cavendish, and there won’t be much sympathy for him in the peloton either.
Finally, it wasn’t just himself he let down out there. Nor Simon Gerrans or anyone else behind him. He let down the British public who came out to cheer him on.
An unprofessional professional.