Mark Cavendish praised his HTC-Columbia team-mates for helping him open his 2010 Tour de France account with his 11th career stage win in Montargis this afternoon, saying that they did a “perfect job” in delivering him to the line, despite his opinion that he had let them down when he finished 12th in Reims yesterday.
The Manxman timed his sprint today perfectly to see off the challenge of Milram’s Gerald Ciolek and Team Sky’s Edvald Boasson Hagen, and acknowledged the contribution of his lead-out man, saying “I just sat on Mark Renshaw’s wheel and I knew he’d deliver me to the right place and he did.”
Cavendish, quoted on the Tour de France website, continued, “I just had to go for the line and it was slightly uphill,” revealing that “we looked at the finish on Google Earth this morning and it looked like a flat finish but we had the info relayed back by Erik Zabel about how it wasn’t so flat. We had to keep the speed high and it’s an incredible feeling to win.”
Today’s win came as a huge relief to the 25-year-old, whose season has been disrupted by injury, illness and controversy, including a public bust-up with team-mate and fellow sprinter André Griepel and being blamed by officials for a crash in the Tour of Switzerland that put paid to Cervélo Test Team’s Heinrich Haussler for that race and Le Tour. Cavendish himself is still recovering from injuries sustained in that crash.
“All that pressure that has built up through the year has finally been lifted,” he said. “For sure, I’m going to try and win more stages but thank God the work paid off today.”
Taking aim at those who had written off his chances of winning a stage this year, Cavendish stated: “It’s the Tour de France, it’s the biggest bike race in the world, and it was the goal this year to win again but so many people wanted to take away from me and the team had done.
“It doesn’t matter how much you say [criticism] is not going to affect you, it does,” he explained, before adding, “It puts pressure on you.”
“We didn’t have the best of luck in the first few days,” Cavendish insisted, “and yesterday we did have luck but I let the guys down. They did a one hundred per cent perfect job and it could have been easy for them to give up today but they took it on again.”
“They did more than they should have had to do and that’s an incredible thing to have,” he added, going on to praise the effort of Kanstantin Sivtsov, who most of the day at the front of the peloton in a successful effort to keep a three man breakaway in check.
“I’ve had doubts about myself, especially yesterday,” Cavendish confessed, “but we gave it a shot again and it’s nice to finally win.”
While today’s win takes Cavendish to 50 points in his pursuit of the green jersey he covets, Cervélo Test Team’s Thor Hushovd remains a long way off in first place on 102 points, and the British rider will also need to overhaul rivals of the calibre of Lampre-Farnese Vini’s Alessandro Petacchi, on 88 points, and Katusha’s Robbie McEwen on 81 if he is to be the biggest threat to the Norwegian winning the classification for the second year in a row.
Despite coming home in fifth place, Hushovd was satisfied with his day’s work. “I’m happy with today’s stage,” he exlained. “I was able to get some more points in the hunt for the maillot vert” he added, although he admitted that”it’s always better to win the stage. I am not racing just for points, I want to win the stage.”
He was also effusive in his praise for compatriot Edvald Boasson Hagen of Team Sky, whose third place today sees him move up to fifth in the points classification, one place ahead of team-mate Geraint Thomas.
“It’s his first Tour and he’s already showing he can be there in the sprints,” said Hushovd. “He’s going to be a big rider. It will be fun to battle against him for the green jersey. I hope I win,” he added.
For his part, Boasson Hagen, recording his second consecutive third place finish, said that he was gaining on Cavendish and Ciolek as the trio approached the line and given a little more road he could have won the stage.
"I felt quite strong at the finish," he explained, "and I was sprinting well, but then the finish line was there - it was a bit too soon,” he told the Team Sky website.
As Cavendish had done, Boasson Hagen praised his team-mates for their unstinting work, especially on the final run-in on what had been a very hot day, saying: “The team helped me out a lot at the end. I was kept near the front for most of the time, I was just following Geraint Thomas, who gave me really good help.
Team Principal Dave Brailsford played down talk of Boasson Hagen challenging for the green jersey this year, insisting, "He's a guy for the future."
“We're very, very happy with him," he added, saying “We want him to gain experience and I think it goes without saying that he'll be a green jersey contender in the future, but we just want him to learn and get used to the environment - he's still only 23, after all.”
"For Edvald to get two thirds in a row is fabulous. We're very proud of him," he concluded.
Tomorrow’s Stage 6, at 227.5km the longest of this year’s race, takes the peloton from Montargis to the steel making town of Gueugnon and despite a couple of Category 4 climbs in the closing 50km should once again result in a bunch sprint before the Tour heads into the Alps.
Indeed, bearing in mind the profile of the transitional stages between there and the Pyrenees, there are only four potential sprint finishes left before the race hits Paris a week on Sunday, making tomorrow a crucial day in the battle for the points competition.
The stage provides another opportunity for Garmin-Transitions to get the win that some may feel they deserve after what has been a traumatic week, losing team leader Christian Vande Velde with broken ribs after the chaos on the Col de Stockeu on Monday.
Sprinter Tyler Farrar also broke a wrist on that stage, but has battled on, and with him not being fully fit to contest the charge to the line just yet, yesterday helped Julian Dean to second place in Reims.
This evening, Matt White hinted that Farrar may not be quite ready yet to resume full duties as the team sprinter, but he remained confident that the team would keep riding for a win: "The boys rode great today," explained White. "We're continuing to look at our options in the sprints, since Tyler is far from 100 percent yet and Julian's still fighting his injuries, too. The lead out worked great with what we've got at the moment, the guys just didn't have the finish in them. We'll keep trying -- as we've said from day one, we're here to race."
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.