Despite the early start time and shorter course – 140km against 260 next year – the lines of people thronging the barriers began as the race meandered through Putney and Chelsea, and that set the tone for support which looked on a par with that enjoyed by the Tour de France on its visits to south-east England in 1994 and 2007. The parks, Richmond and Bushy, were full to the brim and sedate stockbroker belt communities such as Dorking and Oxshott turned out in force, cameras to the fore.
There was a smattering of cyclists in groups from London cycling clubs but, critically, the locals had clearly adopted the event. They set up picnic tables and chairs, installed impromptu hotdog stands in back gardens, galloped alongside the peloton on horseback and brandished the obligatory signs: "Go Cav go" and "Cavendish for gold". There was only going to be one winner as far as the support was concerned.
The spectacular hairpins and sweeping views of Box Hill were the highpoint, although the constraints of numbers meant there was a peculiar feel to a major cycle race with spectators crammed into a viewing area rather than allowed to spread all over the hillside. "What," mused Cavendish, "would it be like if there were no restrictions?"
Access to the viewing area on the zig-zag hairpins of Box Hill is limited to 3,400 with entry by wristband but Locog is clearly aware this is a sore point and was at pains to stress that this was a minimum number for the test event. There will be a debrief after the test race and it seems every effort will be made to allow spectators to watch in greater numbers next year.
Cavendish's victory was the final flourish in a seamless Great Britain performance that can only bode well for his chances in the world road race championship in Copenhagen at the end of September. The GB cyclists enjoyed a numerical advantage – two five-man teams tagged as Great Britain and England could hardly be expected to race against each other – and rode cohesively.
The British began turning the screw after an initial four-man escape gained over six minutes and timed their chase perfectly to sweep up the last survivor, Kristian House of the British team Rapha Condor Sharp, with less than 10km to race. At the kill, there were four Britons still close to Cavendish after a crash entering Brompton Road three kilometres out reduced the field to an elite group of 18 and eliminated perhaps his biggest rival, the American sprinter Tyler Farrar.
"It was a perfect team performance," said Cavendish's fellow-Manxman Peter Kennaugh. "It's starting to gel really well." This should come as no surprise, given that under the road coach Rod Ellingworth, a core group have been brought together several times in the last few years to prepare for Copenhagen and London.
"It's the best Great Britain team we've ever had," Cavendish said. "It was like riding with my trade team, like being with a team that's been together two or three years."
The real thing will be far less straightforward, with a far stronger field and a greater distance, including nine laps rather than two of the 10-mile circuit around Box Hill. "Mark will have to be at the very top of his game to win – in the same form he had when he won Milan-San Remo," said the Great Britain performance director, Dave Brailsford, and Cavendish echoed him, adding that he was "confident" he could rise to the task.
According to Roger Hammond, who raced both in Athens and Beijing, the London course is similar to that of 2004, where he finished seventh. "There is no one major climb but by the end of that one 75% of the peloton failed to finish. I know it's a cliche but it will be a war of attrition." "Interesting, not a guaranteed sprint, it will be in pieces ninth time up. Then it will be a race to try to get together for the finish," Kennaugh said.
As well as the crowds and Cavendish and company, the organisation looked impressive, in what is arguably the toughest logistical exercise in the Olympic programme, given the need to guarantee safe roads on the lengthy run from London's centre to the suburbs, as well as the constraints of protecting the delicate habitats on Box Hill and in Richmond Park, where quadruple barriers were set up.
In total, it called for a length of barriers as long as the race itself, 140km. "I was amazed how much work had already been done. A lot of road furniture has gone and what is still there was very well marked," said Hammond.
"I can't imagine that logistically it was easy to do. It felt safe and if you feel safe going through London at 65kph all you can say is 'well done'. It was faultless."
So too was Cavendish, as he has been for most of this summer.
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