2011 UCI Road World Championships, elite men, Britannia rules
A familiar view of the peloton today; Great Britain on the front, led by Wiggins. Photo: Casey B. Gibson | www.cbgphoto.com

COPENHAGEN (VN) — Love him or hate him, Mark Cavendish can never be accused of not being a thankful captain.

As a sprinter, he’s the first to admit that without the help and sacrifice of his teammates, he wouldn’t win many races. And he certainly would not have become the first British world champion since Tom Simpson in 1965 on Sunday without the help of Team Great Britain.

“I just got to sit there and hope to God the guys ride out of their skin. And they did ride out of their skin,” Cavendish said. “And that’s why I get to wear the world champion’s jersey next season.”

Great Britain rode a near-perfect race on Sunday’s 17-lap, 260km elite men’s race.

The eight-man squad rode solely to set up Cavendish for the bunch sprint and kept the pace so high that no one dared to attack in the closing laps. Bradley Wiggins buried himself on the final lap to keep up the speed and then Ian Stannard and Geraint Thomas carried Cavendish into good position with 500 meters to go.

Cavendish almost botched it, however, finding himself boxed in with 400 meters to go. But the Manxster exploded up the right side of the sprint to pass everyone and fend off a late charge by Matt Goss (Australia) to win by a half-wheel.

“With 450m to go, I thought, ‘Shit, I am boxed in.’ A gap opened on my right and I had to take a change, even if 200m was a bit too far,” Cavendish said. “I know when I kick if I am going to win. I did see Gossie coming up close to me in the end. We knew it wasn’t going to be a walk in the park. With the world’s best sprinters here, we knew it was going to be close.”

Cavendish added that everyone on the winning team deserves to wear the rainbow stripes, not just the first man across the line.

“We were getting attacked every which way near the end by every nation, and the guys just held it together,” Cavendish said. “It was incredible. It’s a real shame that those guys cannot wear the world champion jersey as well. I am super-proud of how we rode today.”

A late-race crash that split the peloton put even more pressure on the British team to control the pace of the race.

Germany was helping to carry the load in the first half of the race when two small breakaway groups pulled clear, but the crash saw four German riders get caught out of position, including powerful world time trial champion Tony Martin.

“When the crash happened, we lost the support of Germany, and nobody else was too interested in helping us,” Cavendish said. “We weren’t worried that the break was going to stay away because the guys were riding so well. We were more worried about attacks going away in the end. We rode so hard on the front that no one could attack.”

For Cavendish, the world title caps a tremendous season that saw him finally win the green jersey at the Tour de France.

With the Olympics on tap next year, Cavendish will once again be lining up with his compatriots. But he was quick to say that it will be more special for him to wear the rainbow stripes than to try to win an Olympic medal.

“At the start of the season I said I had two goals: the green jersey, and the rainbow stripes. I can’t win the yellow jersey at the Tour de France, so this is the next best thing for me,” Cavendish said. “In terms of professional cycling, you can’t get anything better than winning the rainbow jersey. Now I get to wear the rainbow bands for the next year.”