Mark Cavendish, winner of Stage 15 of the Tour de France in Montpellier today, insists he hasn’t yet secured the green jersey he so covets, although the way the finale unfolded today, he certainly has the upper hand over his closest rivals.
Movistar’s Jose Joaquin Rojas could only finish fifth today as the HTC-Highroad sprinter took his fourth stage of this year’s race, and with Cavendish having taken one more point than the Spaniard at the intermediate sprint, he now leads the points classification by 37 points.
Omega Pharma Lotto’s Philippe Gilbert meanwhile launched an attack 3 kilometres out but it was quickly chased down by the peloton with HTC-Highroad to the fore, and the Belgian lies a further 34 points back in third place.
Cavendish himself is being cautious over his chances, however, perhaps unsurprisingly given past disappointments, having missed out by 11 points to Alessandro Petacchi last year and 10 points to Thor Hushovd the year before that.
The latter followed what Cavendish still sees as an unjust decision by the judges to relegate him from a stage finish for riding Hushovd towards the barriers.
While some point out that the Norwegian also picked up intermediate sprint points in the mountains, the HTC-Highroad rider insists that had he not lost those 14 points, he would have taken the green jersey.
“I don’t know if I’ve secured the green jersey just yet,” he reflected this evening. “If you look at the results from two years ago, it seemed like I had it but Thor got it back and you can’t guarantee anything. We’ll keep trying and get as many points in the bank as possible and see what happens on the Champs-Elysées,” he added.
The likelihood, however, is that if Cavendish continues his winning streak on the Champs-Elysées, where he is already the only man to have won two years running, he will take the points jersey, making him only the second Briton after 1984 mountains classification winner Robert Millar to win a jersey in cycling’s biggest race.
Talking of today’s stage - you can see him making a mental note of it at last year's route presentation in the picture above - Cavendish said:
“When Gilbert was attacking the guys were in control. They kept calm when normally it’s easy to panic when that happens, but they brought him back slowly and that kept me in contention and I was able to sprint for the win. I’m really proud of the guys today.”
Cavendish squeezed just inside the time limit on yesterday’s Stage 14 to Plateau de Beille, the third and final stage in the Pyrenees, and said: “I didn’t feel that good today to be honest but I don’t think anybody else did either.
“It was a really nervous day, you saw everyone fighting for the front the whole day,” he continued, with a strong wind meaning that many sought to keep near the front of the race in case the peloton split.
The Manxman is always quick to praise his team mates, and today was no exception. “I’m lucky that I’ve got a group of guys like I have to keep me out of trouble at the front and that kind of took the pressure off a bit but it’s still hard,” he said.
“It was up and down, there were crosswinds the whole day; it was a difficult stage but it was a sprint and the guys controlled it. They delivered me perfectly to the last 200 meters.
“It means a hell of a lot to me to see what the guys do. They work incredibly hard for me, they helped me get through the mountains and it wasn’t easy to be able to get here and do that is all about respect,” he added, referring to crossing the line first.
“We were fighting with the GC teams at the end. We had a bit of an attack from Sky at the end but it was Matt Goss who took Mark Renshaw to 700 meters to go and then Mark Renshaw took me really long – it was uphill, 600 meters to 200... and I had to go then.
“I wanted to leave it later because there was a bit of a headwind but, ah, I had to go because I didn’t want anyone to get the jump on me. It was difficult but I was able to win so I’m really happy.”
Today’s victory takes Cavendish to 19 stage wins in the Tour de France, all of those accrued in the last four editions, and puts him seventh equal in the list of all time stage winners.
At his current strike rate, he’s on course to overhaul Eddy Merckx who tops the list with 34 victories, by 2015, perhaps even a year earlier; take away the Belgian’s 16 time trial victories and count just road stages and Cavendish is now ahead of him.
Although it was always clear that Cavendish was going to be a major talent, it’s an incredible haul and one that few would have predicted when he made his Tour de France debut with T-Mobile in 2007, although two top ten placings underlined his promise.
Britain’s next star sprinter got his own first top ten placing today in his maiden Tour de France today, Ben Swift of Team Sky, the outfit Cavendish is of course strongly rumoured to be joining for next season.
The 23-year-old from Rotherham said afterwards: ““It was pretty manic. I got looked after really well by Edvald [Boasson Hagen] and Geraint [Thomas]. It was fast and I could have just done with one more person in there but obviously you need a lot of luck and a lot of speed to beat Cav. I gave it my best shot and got sixth.
While Cavendish, now 26, cut his first Tour short before the Alps and left the race early after winning four stages in 2008 to focus on the Madison at the Beijing Olympics, Swift is determined to arrive in Paris next Sunday.
“I’m actually feeling better as the race is going on,” he explained. “I was probably a bit in awe of it all at the start and mentally drained from it all. But I felt better through the Pyrenees; yesterday I was climbing pretty good on what was probably one of the hardest stages of the Tour so I was really happy with that.
“You can see the whole peloton is pretty tired now and if I can keep going like that I’ll be good next week,” he concluded.
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.