The former World and Olympic champion, known as the “Manx Missile” captivated the 35,000 who lined the streets of Glasgow City centre as he and five other riders, Ian Stannard, Pete Kennaugh, Ben Swift, Andy Fenn and Scotland’s David Millar formed the leading pack in an enthralling race.
The six were reduced to four in the battle for the striped British champion’s jersey when Fenn and Swift fell behind after seven laps of the 14.2 kilometre route.
Defending champion Stannard was delayed on the 12th and penultimate lap with a puncture, however, he made impressive ground up to rejoin the other three leaers.
Near the end of the final lap, Millar of Team Garmin Sharp made an attempt to get away to nullify Cavendish’s world-leading finishing sprint but the Omega-Pharma Quickstep rider reeled him in and dashed across the line with Team Sky’s Stannard getting second as Millar sat up in disappointment.
“My form’s good,” Cavendish said afterwards. “I’m motivated for the Tour de France but it’s unexpected that I won here. I was here more for preparation, and to see the park for the Commonwealth Games. Normally with so many Team Sky riders, it’s going to be really difficult to win here. We’ve got a good group after about 20km, we were well together, and Ian was left isolated.
“It was a nice course, a lot of people out and it didn’t rain. It’s really nice, I’m very patriotic and it feels proud to represent my country next week in France.”
Third-placed Millar, who was born in Malta but is a proud Scot, could hardly believe the support of those around the city. He said: “It was phenomenal. Now I know how Thomas Voeckler feels in France. I’ve never had that in a race before, the amount of people shouting for me. I can’t wait for next year’s games,”
The Men’s under-23 championship jersey was taken by 20-year-old Simon Yates, who finished in seventh overall, with Owain Doull and Tom Moses completing the podium.
The women’s race, over eight laps of the same circuit, saw Olympic silver medallist Lizzie Armitstead of Boels Dolmans taking her second British Road Race title in three attempts.
“It was really special. I’ve had an up-and-down season so far, so it’s a real confidence boost for me,” she beamed.
Approaching the final 50km in the race, Yorkshire-born Armitstead sprung into her quickest form and broke away from the Peloton to lead.
She said afterwards: “Unfortunately, I had to drop my team-mates, which left me with two Wiggle Honda riders. I just let it out. I rode from the front at the final lap,”
Armitstead crossed the finish line with a 63-second advantage over second-placed Laura Trott, her Great Britain Olympic team-mate.
“The course was tough. At the beginning, even when we were going at snail’s pace, I thought this was going to be difficult, but it’s one of those courses that creeps up on you,” added Armitstead. Now experienced on the road rather than the track, having focused on the discipline since 2010, Armitstead used her nous and previous knowledge of the championships to good effect.
She added: “I’ve got a lot of experience on the road now. For the track girls, it’s their first real taste of the event. I felt more confident than them.”
Trott, who took the under-23 gold medal, said: “I did what I could, but Lizzie was stronger. The better rider won on the day, to be honest.”
Trott’s team-mate at Wiggle-Honda, former Olympic champion Dani King, was satisfied to pick up the bronze medal. “I didn’t feel great after the Time Trial, but if you gave me third-place before the race, I’d have been delighted. I thought we all worked well together. Lizzie was the better rider today. It was great to get the experience ahead of the Commonwealth Games. The course suited us actually, because we’re powerful and fast riders,” King added.
Although finishing in sixth and eighth respectively, Emma Grant was second in the under-23 category and Elinor Barker took bronze. For 17-year-old Barker, it capped off an excellent week having completed exams on the day of travelling to Glasgow and secured her first professional, full-time contract with Wiggle Honda.
“It’s really good. It takes a bit of pressure off me. To be able to concentrate on racing is good,” she said.
Scottish rider Claire Thomas was the best performing home rider, almost five minutes behind Armitstead in the end but receiving a rapturous ovation from the thousands lining the home straight at Glasgow Green.