TOUR DE FRANCE: Race leader Wiggins provides sling-shot lead out to Cavendish
BRADLEY Wiggins owes Mark Cavendish and owes him big - and he's determined to do his best to repay him in the days ahead.
Four years ago Wiggins won two golds in Beijing but by the time he came to ride with Mark Cavendish in the madison he was a spent force - and the Manxman was the only Team GB track cyclist to return home without a medal.
Since then he has underlined his reputation as the world's number one sprinter, winning more than 20 Tour de France stages and claiming the world road race title in Copenhagen last year.
But for the last three weeks he has sacrificed his own ambitions to ride as a star domestique to Wiggins, who now looks guaranteed to become the first-ever British winner of the world's most storied and famous bike ride.
Wiggins hopes to finally repay him by helping Cavendish to Olympic road race gold in eight days and also gave him a lead out to win stage 18 of the Tour in Brive-la-Gaillarde.
“He’s demonstrated once again why he’s such an amazing rider and a genuine world champion," said Team Sky chief Dave Brailsford.
“The one thing I’d like the team to be known and remembered for is the unity and teamwork we've shown.
"The guys work tirelessly for each other, they get on well and they showed again today that they all back each other, it doesn’t matter what the situation is.
“We were determined to repay Mark for everything he has done for the team over the last few weeks. I know Bradley and the guys were very motivated to try and say thanks to him. When you lead Mark Cavendish out like that the result is never in doubt."
It was a 22nd Tour success of Cavendish's career, his second this year, and the 27-year-old equals Lance Armstrong and Andre Darrigade in fourth place in the all-time rankings of stage winners.
“It would have been easy for the team to just ride in to Paris now after the mountains," said Cavendish, who should no ill effects from his fall after tangling with a spectator 24 hours earlier.
“But we spoke on the bus before the start and I stuck my hand up and said ‘please give me a chance’. They all committed to that and said we were going to make a sprint. I’m so happy, those guys who I’ve been riding with these last three weeks helped me out.
“We came here with the goal of winning the yellow jersey and we're first and second on GC.
“Spirits are high and to be part of a team that could go on to win the Tour de France is a massive honour.”
Wiggins admits the Tour is now his as he heads into the penultimate stage, one of his time trial specialties.
"It couldn’t have gone any better," he said.
"There was a bit of a group off the front but he proved today who the fastest man in the world is if there was any doubt. You saw how far he went, 600m from the finish, and left them for dead. It was fantastic to be a part of.
"It’s been a great three weeks and I’ve always wanted to be able to do that for him. It’s the first time I’ve led him out for a Tour stage. It’s great."
© Sportsbeat 2012