Mark Cavendish took his fifth stage win of this year's Tour de France in Aubenas on Friday after overcoming the second category Col de l'Escrinet, 16 kilometres from the finish of stage 19.
The stage win demonstrated Cavendish's increasing ability to remain in contention on courses that would previously have seen him dropped prior to the finish. One group not surprised by his success were his Columbia-HTC teammates, who once again were rewarded for their unwavering faith in their sprint leader.
Columbia-HTC provided another inch-perfect set up for Cavendish, capturing world champion, Alessandro Ballan just before the flame rouge. Former white jersey wearer, Tony Martin, provided the final lead out for his captain.
"We had to pull really hard at the front with just a few us there," said Martin. "I was the last one in the final kilometre so it was my job to be there until three hundred meters. I was going fast, but not too fast so that Cav could sprint from there. He’s the fastest and it’s a big success for the team."
"I enjoy it when the peloton isn’t too big as it’s less stressful," he added.
Rabobank, who have had an underwhelming Tour de France thus far, were working hard to set up the stage for their sprinter, Oscar Freire, who has proven himself capable of surviving intermediate climbs in the past.
"We always expect Cav to win if it comes down to a sprint," said Mark Renshaw. "He’s proved by far that he’s the best sprinter in the race but that was an extremely tough stage. Rabobank were riding a hard tempo on the climb. It was a great victory for him."
"I had a bad day and wasn’t on the top of my game but I knew that Cav was going good when I saw him at the bottom of the climb. It looked like he was floating."
Renshaw also expressed his opinion on the race jury's decision to relegate Cavendish for irregular sprinting on the stage in to Besançon on stage 14. The decision effectively ended Cavendish's hopes of taking the points classification in this year's race, however the team is now preparing to deliver him to his first appearance on the Champs-Élysées.
"It’s a shame about the decision the other day when he was disqualified. It put us on the back foot and I don’t think it was a fair decision," said Renshaw. "That cost us a lot but the main aim of the game was to win stages and now it’s to win a sixth in Paris.
Despite the setback of the stage 14 relegation, Renshaw said the team is more than happy with their success in the race. "Sure, I knew it was going to be successful but not this level. It’s extraordinary."