LONDON (Reuters) - Bradley Wiggins and Mark Cavendish provided a rip-roaring climax to the world track cycling championships with a stunning Madison victory that rocked London’s velodrome to its rafters on Sunday.
The two British cycling greats, who briefly fell out when they flopped as favorites for the 200-lap event at the 2008 Beijing Games, came from nowhere to carve their way to victory and give the hosts a table-topping fifth gold medal.
It was the icing on the cake for the host nation who, after a wobbly start to the championships, ended with nine medals and crucial momentum ahead of this year’s Rio Olympics.
A year ago in Paris they returned without a single rainbow jersey to show for their efforts.
Britain’s first Tour de France champion Wiggins, 35, has returned to his track roots for a golden swansong by the Copacabana this year, and how he reveled in the fast and furious action always guaranteed on the boards.
He was disappointed to miss out on gold in the team pursuit earlier in the week, while 26-times Tour stage winner Cavendish’s hopes of making the British track team this summer are still in the balance after omnium disappointment.
But what a show they provided as they hunted down the leading teams in relentless fashion to win gold, eight years after they did the same in Manchester.
“That was my last race on this track...and it wasn’t a bad one,” Wiggins, who celebrated by kissing it, said.
Earlier Laura Trott did not put a wheel out of place as she claimed her second gold medal of the week with a dominant victory in the omnium having already won the scratch race.
Trott, who won Olympic gold in the multi-discipline event on the same London boards four years ago, was a model of consistency throughout two grueling days and maintained her stranglehold during the concluding points race.
American twice omnium world champion Sarah Hammer, second to Trott at London 2012, was third after losing a thrilling battle for silver with France’s Laurie Berthon.
“It’s taken me four years to get this jersey back in the omnium,” Trott said as boyfriend Jason Kenny set off in search of keirin gold having won the sprint title the night before.
Kenny had nothing left in the legs though and rolled home sixth. Joachim Eilers won the title from New Zealand’s Edward Dawkins, the German also taking his second gold medal of the week having clinched the time trial.
China claimed a first world individual sprint champion when Zhong Tianshi beat compatriot Lin Junhong in the women’s final.
Zhong had upset twice world champion Kristina Vogel of Germany in the semi-final when her team mate also sprung a surprise, outpacing Australia’s Olympic champion Anna Meares.
For sheer sporting theater though the best was to come.
A partisan home crowd produced an ear-splitting din as the British duo, working like clockwork with Spain, gained back the lap they had lost early to France, Switzerland and Colombia.
Cavendish even had to pick himself off the boards after a late crash, but by that time Wiggins had the race under control and, with points already in the bag, it was a matter of ticking off the laps.
“It’s one of the last times we’ll ride together. That’s incredible,” Cavendish, who must wish the Madison was still an Olympic event, said as the crowd saluted them.
“We’re world champions again, we’ve done it again.”
Cavendish will now have to sweat on a place on the plane to Rio, where he hopes to win a long-overdue Olympic medal, after missing his target of an omnium medal on Saturday.
France, so impressive last year on home soil, failed to win a gold medal after their Madison team Morgan Kneisky and Benjamin Thomas were swallowed up by the Brits and had to settle for silver ahead of Spain.
Ten nations won golds with Germany second in the medals table and Australia third.
(Corrects name of Chinese rider in para 14.)
Reporting by Martyn Herman, editing by Toby Davis