Mark Cavendish has praised former team mate turned rival André Greipel after beating the German in today’s Stage 11 of the Tour de France in Lavaur in a reversal of yesterday’s result in Carmaux. The HTC-Highroad rider, back today in the green jersey for the first time in two years, also insists he can win two more stages on this year’s race.
This year's Tour has been the first time Greipel has gone head to head with Cavendish since leaving HTC at the end of last year, and the pair shared an often acrimonious relationship born out of the team not being able to acommodate both in its line-up for races such as the Tour de France.
Invariably, it was Cavendish who got the selection, but yesterday Greipel responded on the best way possible by getting his maiden Tour de France win and Cavendish was full of admiration for the way his old sparring partner had achieved it.
“I spoke to André today and I said, ‘Technically that was one of the soundest sprints I’ve seen by a sprinter from this generation’,” revealed Cavendish after powering his way to today’s stage win with Greipel on his wheel but unable to find an answer to the Manxman’s turn of speed.
“How he rode it was perfect,” continued Cavendish, “so I really can’t be disappointed with yesterday,” when, by his own admission, “I didn’t kick. I kind of rolled before kicking, so I made sure I kicked today.
“You can see the way that Mark [Renshaw] led me out, I went with 250 meters to go and I got the acceleration and I was able to hold it. I got the perfect lead-out and we proved that we’re the strongest team for a sprint in the peloton.
HTC-Highroad, aware that there are only two more opportunities for sprint finishes in this year’s race, controlled the front of the peloton all day, as they so often do when there is a bunch finish in prospect.
“We rode all day,” explained Cavendish. “There was a group of six guys away and we put two on the front and kept them at three minutes. There was some help from other teams at the end but we have two in the top 10 on GC – Tony Martin and Peter Velits – and they were riding for me at the end to pull the break back.
“It’s an incredible group of guys I’ve got around me,” he added. “I said yesterday that I was disappointed because they rode all day and I couldn’t win but I had to make amends today and I finished off the job that they set me up for.”
As for the two stages Cavendish says he can win, those come in Montpellier this Sunday and in Paris a week later, where he will be bidding to become the only man to have triumphed on the Champs-Elysées three times.
The Manxman has won that final stage in the last two editions of the Tour, with only Djamolidine Abdoujaparov also having won twice on the famous avenue, in 1993 and 1995.
Besides those potential stage wins which would take his haul in this year’s race to five, the same as he’s averaged in each of the last three editions of the race, Cavendish has his heart set upon the green jersey.
Before the Tour started, the 26-year-old insisted that he wasn’t planning to specifically target intermediate sprints at the race other than to limit his losses to rivals, but things haven’t quite worked out that way – today, not for the first time in the race, the sprinter took the maximum points available to the peloton after a breakaway had gone through.
“I hope I get to keep the green jersey this year,” admitted Cavendish, adding, “We’ve been fighting for it all along; all the intermediate sprints we’ve gone for, the finishes we’ve gone for... and 15 points is a narrow margin and we’ll keep fighting.”
The HTC-Highroad rider last wore the green jersey during the 2009 race but ultimately lost the points classification to Thor Hushovd, which he still blames on being stripped of points on Stage 14 when he was adjudged to have ridden the Norwegian into the barriers in the finale. The fact Hushovd was able to pick up intermediate sprint points on hillier stages also helped him, however.
This year, Cavendish has silenced critics who maintain that he can’t cope with hillier finishes or when his HTC-Highroad team isn’t there to set himself up for the finale, and as the race moves into the Pyrenees tomorrow, the focus of the battle for the green jersey will move to the intermediate sprints.
There’s only one of those on each stage, but it’s worth 20 points to the first rider over. So far during the Tour, that’s gone to members of breakaways, but even if there are five riders up the road, that still leaves 10 points for the sixth man across down to 1 point for 15th.
Though clearly there will be hills to negotiate ahead of the intermediate sprints as the race heads into the Pyrenees followed by the Alps, most of those should be within Cavendish’s comfort zone as he seeks to consolidate his lead over Movistar’s Jose Joaquin Rojas, who now lies second ahead of Omega Pharma-Lotto’s Philipe Gilbert.
One intermediate sprint that Cavendish won’t be contesting is the last-but-one of the race on 19, where the organisers, perhaps as a joke on the sprinters, have put it at the foot of the climb to Alpe d’Huez – immediately after the riders will have descended from tackling the summit of the Galibier.
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.