Mark Cavendish today rode hard for the line to secure the 16th Tour de France stage win of his career and immediately suggested that race organisers ASO have deliberately introduced some tricky stage finishes in the opening week year’s race to prevent him and his HTC-Highroad team from continuing to exercise their grip on sprint stages.
“I think what the organisers have done this year is they’ve made it hard to have a proper bunch sprint,” he explained on TV straight after powering his way to the line to beat Omega Pharma-Lotto’s Philippe Gilbert and Movistar’s Jose Joaquin Rojas to win Stage 5 in Cap Frehel this afternoon.
“I think that’s because we’ve been dominating in the last years,” he added. “We’ve brought the best team to work on the sprints at the Tour de France so we dominate the sprints. They’ve tried to make it a handicap this year – that wasn’t a bunch sprint, that was hard, real hard at the finish,” something he said was highlighted by the presence of riders such as Gilbert, Rojas and race leader Thor Hushovd in the finale.
Earlier in today’s stage, Cavendish had sat up and protested during the intermediate sprint as he seemed to be cut up by Quickstep’s Tom Boonen and Rojas, and the race jury agreed, taking away the points that both had secured, just as they had done to Cavendish and Hushovd after they went shoulder to shoulder to contest a similar sprint on Stage 3.
Before news of Boonen and Rojas getting disqualified from the intermediate sprint was made public, however, Cavendish explained how Monday’s decision to dock him points made matters more difficult for him to fight for position when things started getting physical in the sprint, illustrating his point with an incident from the end of today’s stage.
“[Andre] Greipel bashed into me, what am I supposed to do when a six foot two guy bashes into me? I can’t defend myself any more, I can’t do anything, so I just have to get bashed, there’s no way I can get them off. If someone smaller than me does it, I can do it, if someone bigger than me does it, I can’t, so I have to drop back.
“I thought that was my sprint over, you can see the likes of Brad [Wiggins] up there, you see what type of finish it was, if Brad’s going for it, it’s a hard finish. He went with 500 to go, bearing round to the left I just thought, ‘I’ll go, try and save some points.’”
He did more than that, securing a stage win for the fourth Tour de France in a row. His 16 wins puts him joint ninth in the list of all-time Tour de France stage winners, alongside Charles Pelissier, Rene Le Greves and Jacques Anquetil , and if you strip out time trial wins, he leapfrogs others ahead of him including Lance Armstrong.
Today’s win is one of the hardest-fought of the Manxman’s haul. “It was proper hard those last couple of hundred metres, my legs were just going, going, going,” he reflected. “I’m really, really happy with that.”
Later, Cavendish revealed that he was dedicating the memory of today’s stage win to his pet dog Amber who he owned with ex-fiancée Melissa Phillips and who he revelaed on Twitter yesterday had been put down.
"I want to dedicate this to Amber,” he said. “She was my little baby."
More reaction to follow
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.