While Team Sky’s Bradley Wiggins was crashing out of the Tour de France with a broken collarbone today, it was business as usual for rumoured future team mate Mark Cavendish, the HTC-Highroad sprinter getting his latest stage win in cycling’s biggest race in the same town, Chateauroux, where he had clinched his first.
In between those two wins in the capital of the Indre department, Cavendish has ridden in 30 Tour de France stages that the organisers choose to describe as ‘flat.’
Despite that fact that many of those aren’t suited to sprinters, such as Tuesday’s finish on the Mur de Bretagne, the Manx Missile has won half of them. It’s a phenomenal record.
As ever, however, Cavendish, who had benefited from HTC-Highroad being able to deploy its leadout train to full effect for the first time in this ear’s race, was quicker to thank his team-mates than bask in personal glory.
“The guys were incredible to hold the pace that they did in the last 15 kilometres just with our team,” he said. “That is super, super special. And to pull it out and keep the pace so high at the finish meant that I didn’t have to accelerate too much because we were already travelling so fast to the line.
“It’s an incredible victory and I can’t wait to celebrate with the guys tonight.
“This is a special place,” continued the 26-year-old. “I’ve got special memories from here. It’s where I won my first stage back in 2008 and the first of 17 wins is important.
As last year, some had queried Cavendish’s form coming into this year’s Tour, but two stage wins in three days speak for themselves, and the rider was quick to point out that he and his team were in top form for the race.
“My whole season goes into this race. It’s all about building up to be on my best form with the best team and to win consistently here. You can see how well the guys rode today – this was the HTC train of the old days, completely drilled and working tirelessly all day and holding onto the front until the end. I’ve got an incredible bunch of guys working for me.
Unusually, the sole intermediate sprint on today’s route came as the peloton had already raced nearly nine tenths of the stage’s 218 kilometres. Cavendish led the main bunch over, picking up the maximum 13 points on offer after a four-man breakaway had passed through.
“It was hard because we had to go for the intermediate sprint with just over 25km from the finish and it was a dangerous sprint because there were a lot of guys bashing about there,” he explained.
“Someone hit my shoe [in Buzançais] and I had to tighten it up with about 500 meters to go… and, after that, it was about trying to recover when we were in the cross winds and my team looked after me. I was able to recuperate enough to be able to get to the front and ride behind them to the finish.”
Cavendish also had a thought for Wiggins, the man whom he had partnered to World Championship victory in the Madison at the Manchester Velodrome in 2008. “I’m gutted for Brad,” he said. “He was on the form of his life! And, despite what some doubters might think, he was going to do something big here. I’m really upset for him. I hope he gets better soon.”
Wiggins wasn’t the only big name to be forced out of the race today. Tom Boonen of Quick Step finally succumbed to the injuries that he had suffered during a crash on Wednesday, and got off his bike with more than 100 kilometres remaining of today’s stage, which had started in Le Mans.
“Yesterday just after the arrival I felt good, it felt like everything was going to be resolved soon,” explained Boonen, who has a somewhat ambivalent relationship with the race; winner of the green jersey in 2007 and of six career stages, he was excluded in 2008 due to an earlier positive test for cocaine, and would only take part in 2009 after a long legal battle. He missed last year’s race through injury.
“But,” he added, “in the evening I started feeling worse. Last night I hardly slept, I had a headache and pain in my back and shoulders. This morning I tried getting back on my bike anyway. But during the race I wasn’t lucid, I didn’t feel safe. My head started spinning and I couldn’t keep my concentration. I hung out towards the back of the group but it was too dangerous to continue in these conditions, for me as well as for the rest of the group.”
Boonen, who will undergo medical checks on Friday, promised to return the Tour and said he would now assess his programme going forward.
“I’m very disappointed,” he admitted. “I prepared well for this Tour and I think I could have definitely had some chances to go for it. The Tour is like that, the first week is always complicated to interpret, but I like this race and I’ll be back. Now I want to recuperate as best I can and reconsider my schedule for the following weeks. The work I did to get in shape for this Tour will come back to me and be useful in the near future.”
Thor Hushovd, wearer of the race leader’s maillot jaune since Sunday’s Stage 2 Team Time Trial at Les Essarts, acknowledged that tomorrow will be his final day in it, although he does of course have the consolation of changing into the World Champion’s jersey.
“We did everything we could to respect this [yellow] jersey. It’s a fight every day at the Tour de France. Everybody is getting tired physically but also tired of this stressful racing. Today, unfortunately for Sky they lost Wiggins.
“If I had to chose who to hand my jersey to after my time in the lead, I would nominate my team-mate David Millar,” continued the Norwegian. “He has worked hard for me all week and he’s only eight seconds behind. If he can take it from me, that would be nice… that would be the dream scenario.
“This was certainly a different week to what I’m used to at the Tour. Wearing the yellow jersey for five days makes it feel like it’s ‘mission accomplished’. This, plus the win in the team time trial made it a perfect week. All I need is a stage victory.
“Today HTC did a lot of work all day and we know they are among the best in the world to set up a sprint. They also showed this again today but that’s not a surprise. What’s more, Sky wasn’t there to compete against them.
“The first week of the Tour is always nervous but this year the weather made it even more so, especially the wind,” he added. “Everyone wants to be at the front and that’s what causes the falls.
“Tomorrow we will not defend the yellow jersey because I know that I cannot follow the best at Super Besse,” admitted the Garmin-Cervelo rider. “It’s time for others to take over and it’s now time for the favorites for the overall to step up.”
Movistar’s Jose Joaquin Rojas meanwhile is back in the green jersey after ceding it to Omega Pharma-Lotto’s Philippe Gilbert on Wednesday, when judges disqualified the Spanish champion from the intermediate sprint.
Today’s stage victory has catapulted Cavendish up to third position in the points classification, six points behind Gilbert but 17 down on Rojas. The Movistar rider intends to build on his advantage in the coming days as the race heads through the Massif Central and towards the Pyrenees.
“Tomorrow I don’t think that Cavendish will take a lot of points,” he explained. “And, in the stages ahead, I have more chances to find myself in front of him. I know that, for now, he is the most dangerous rival for the green jersey for me, but the road is still long. In any case, he still showed that he is the fastest of all in the sprints.”
Vacansoleil’s Jonny Hoogerland remains top of the mountains classification, while the white jersey for best young rider passes to Rabobank’s Robert Gesink from Team Sky’s Geraint Thomas. The Welshman topped of the classification after finishing sixth on Stage 1, and has done the jersey – and himself – proud, working tirelessly for his team mates including leading out Edvald Boasson Hagen for his Stage 6 win in Lisieux.
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.