Tour de France organisers ASO may want this year’s race to evoke some of the romance of the early editions of the event by commemorating the centenary of its first visit to the Pyrenees, but Mark Cavendish, winner of back-to-back stages today and yesterday, this afternoon injected a hefty dose of pragmatism after crossing the line first in Guegnon.
As he had done yesterday when he won in Montargis, the HTC-Columbia rider was fulsome in his praise of the seven riders who had got him in the position to launch his finish today, on the 2010 Tour’s longest stage, saying: “We’re a team and I’m just a part of what functions like a great machine.”
In words that would have been anathema to Tour de France founder Henri Desgrange, who found trade teams and their tactics so distasteful that he replaced them with national teams in 1930 – the former would not return until three decades later – the Manxman continued: “Yeah, I’m just the guy who crosses the line with my hands in the air… but that’s the goal of cycling, to display the logo sponsors.”
Cavendish, quoted on the Tour de France website - which he'll no doubt be pleased to learn can be accessed through a variety of HTC handsets - added: “We’ve got to figure out the best way to do that and one way is to win bunch sprints. I’ve got to finish off the work that they do, and it’s an incredible machine to be part of.”
The sprint ace’s win today lifts him to fifth place in the points classification, 23 points behind Thor Hushovd, who beat him to the prize last year, and the usually supremely self-confident Cavendish was uncharacteristically muted when asked what his chances of overhauling the Norwegian were.
“I don’t know where I stand with the green jersey. It’s still far off but I’ll just plug away,” he confessed. “We’ll try and win stages and see what happens. After the mix-ups of the first few days, it put us on the back foot and we’ll do what we normally do and I’ll see how I go.”
With the race now heading into the Alps and the Pyrenees featuring heavily after that, and Cavendish also trailing the likes of Lampre-Farnese Vini’s Alessandro Petacchi in the points competition, Hushovd would seem to have the upper hand.
However, after finishing a disappointing tenth today and with Petacchi just four points behind him, the Norwegian admitted: “It’s getting close now. I would have liked to have scored a few more points in the final sprint, but that’s the way it is.”
The Cervélo TestTeam rider continued: “I will have a big fight all the way to Paris, but against whom, I am not sure. You have to be consistent and pick up points every day.”
Hushovd insisted that in seeking to do that, he needed to steer a very fine line between success and failure, saying: “It is a balancing act. It’s hard sometimes. If I crash in a sprint, I can lose all points, so I have to be there in the sprints, but not do anything crazy. It’s important to gain points every day and never miss out any points at all,” he concluded.
Tomorrow, however, the focus will shift from the green to the yellow jersey, not to mention the polka dot number sported by the mountains classification leader, as the race heads into the Alps with a 165.5km stage from Tournus to Station des Rousses.
The route includes six categorised climbs, with three Category 2 ascents to be negotiated, the second of those crested just 4km before the finish, before the peloton heads higher in the next two stages, which include four Category 1 climbs plus the Hors-Categorie Col de la Madeleine.
World Champion Cadel Evans, currently lying third in the general classification, expects that the Alps will see battle well and truly joined in the fight for the general classification.
"I'm quite tired, but tomorrow is a new race," he told the BMC Racing website. "Everything is going to start to change around tomorrow and Sunday is going to be a real shuffle-up going into the Pyrenees."
Evans added that he could see current race leader Fabian Cancellara holding on to the maillot jaune tomorrow. The Team Saxo Bank rider leads the general classification by 20 seconds from Team Sky’s Geraint Thomas, with Evans a further 19 seconds behind, and the Australian believes that keeping the overall lead will give Cancellara all the incentive he needs.
"I imagine if he's motivated by that," Evans said, before conceding, "It depends on what the other teams want to do and if they want to eliminate him. I think Cancellara has the better chance of making it than Geraint Thomas, in reality."
The Welsh rider, who tops the young riders classification, continues to point out that he is in the race to support his team leader, but admits that wearing the maillot jaune has its appeal, telling the Team Sky website: “Obviously if the opportunity arose then I'd definitely try and grab it but my priority will always be to try and help Brad Wiggins as much as possible."
As the Tour de France website points out, tomorrow will be the 21st time that Cancellara has started a stage in yellow, equating to the length of a single edition of the race.
“Of course, it’s not bad at all but it’s not the same as if I won the Tour de France,” reflected the Swiss rider, “because it’s something a bit different. Of course, I’ll be very proud if I can have the yellow jersey for one more day. If not, I won’t be sad. Tomorrow we start with mountains and it’ll depend on how the race will unfold. Maybe I will still have the jersey after the stage tomorrow but maybe not. I’m prepared for the next phase,” he added.
Meanwhile, Jerome Pinault of Quick Step, who currently leads the mountains classification, was eager to reveal his plans for tomorrow, suggesting that he shouldn’t be planning a visit to the poker table any time soon.
“I’ll try to slip into the escape tomorrow, but I know it will be a lottery. Yet it is the only way for me to keep this jersey,” he explained. “It will not be a big deal if I ever have to lose the polka-dot jersey going to Rousses. Before the race, I said that it would be nice to spend a week with the polka-dot jersey, and it is already done.”
But his sights are set higher than just keeping the maillot à pois. “Now, I have yet to win a stage and that’s what I’ll try to do tomorrow. One stage victory of the Tour of France it is something people remember, while a few days in the polka-dot jersey… we forget that quickly. This morning I spoke with Richard Virenque, and he also advised me to go on the attack tomorrow morning. That’s what I plan on doing, and I will not surrender easily," he said.
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.