Mark Cavendish rounded off his reign in the world champion’s jersey by sprinting to his third victory on the final stage of the Tour of Britain.
The Manxman was led out perfectly once again by his Team Sky team-mates, with Berhnard Eisel, Christian Knees and Jeremy Hunt all taking huge turns on the front before Luke Rowe kicked on in the final kilometre.
When the Welshman pulled over on the cobbled drag to the finish line, Cavendish dug deep and celebrated Team Sky’s fourth victory in eight stages ahead of Boy van Poppel (UnitedHealthcare) and Fabio Sabatini (Liquigas).
Jonathan Tiernan-Locke also raised his arms aloft as he rolled over the line, as the Endura rider’s position in the front group ensured he wrapped up the overall victory with an 18-second advantage over Nathan Haas (Garmin-Sharp), with Damiano Caruso (Liquigas) five seconds further back in third.
Immediately after the stage, Cavendish told ITV4: "The victory feels very nice and the fans have been incredible. The amount of people on the road today was like the Olympic Games. That's been the same all week, come rain or shine.
"I thought people had forgotten about me a little bit - it's been all about sideburns this week (laughs) - but seeing the amount of people in Guildford, I just wanted to win.
"It was my last day in the rainbow jersey and I wanted to finish it off in style. The team rode really hard all day. Breaks were going left, right and centre, but they stayed with me and led me to the line. I'm really happy."
Massive crowds had lined the 147.7km route from Reigate and witnessed Simon Richardson (Team IG), Jack Bobridge (Orica-GreenEdge), Wesley Kreder (Vacansoleil), and Pete Williams (Node 4) form the day’s early break.
Williams consolidated his place at the top of the sprint classification by winning the day’s three intermediate sprints, but Team Sky and Endura had the quartet in their sights as they began the final categorised climb of Barhatch Lane.
That was when NetApp came to the front, and the pace the American team set not only overhauled those four riders, but saw the peloton temporarily splinter as they battled their way to the summit.
Samuel Sánchez (Euskaltel), Liam Holohan (Raleigh) and the plucky Bobridge went clear on descent which followed, and then Bobridge attacked again once the remnants of that break had been reeled back in.
Bobridge would meet the same fate inside the last 13km, and after another solo dig from Pablo Urtasun (Euskaltel), the peloton were back as one as they passed the 6km to go banner.
The pace Team Sky set in the closing stages negated any further attacks, and the perfect lead out they produced saw Cavendish romp to victory and send many of the massed ranks home with smiles on their faces.
Back in the team car, Sports Director Servais Knaven was delighted with the effort his riders had put in, and pleased to have come away from the race with four stage victories in the bag.
“That was an incredible performance," he told us. "The team were really up for it with it being Cav’s last race in the world champion’s jersey, and although there were some attacks on that steep Barhatch Lane climb, the guys stayed cool and kept everything together, which was fantastic to see.
“They finished it off perfectly too with Cav taking a fourth stage win for the team, and you can’t ask much more than that. Christian [Knees] managed to get ninth on the general classification as well, but stage wins were the main objective for us, so to have won half the stages on offer is not bad at all.
“It’s been a tough week of racing with long days and long transfers, but everybody’s stayed motivated and that’s what’s helped us be as successful as we have been."
As well as toasting his riders, Knaven also reserved special praise for the thousands of fans which had lined the course throughout the last week.
He added: “The crowds have been unbelievable. On the climbs and at the finishes it’s been like the Tour de France and that’s really good to see.
"Cycling in the UK is growing and growing and to be able to show off a British world champion and a British Tour de France winner was really nice thing for us to be able to do."