Tour de France Stage 7 reaction: Cav enjoys win number 17, Boonen reflects on withdrawal

Meanwhile, Hushovd resigns himself to one final day in yellow - and hopes Millar takes it over

by Simon_MacMichael   July 8, 2011  

Mark Cavendish studies 2011 Tour de France route © Simon MacMichael

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.