After being hit by crashes, illness and disappointment over the opening four days, Omega Pharma-QuickStep's Tour de France took a big upward swing when Mark Cavendish won today's stage into Marseille. The British sprinter was full of praise for his teammates, revealing they all derived confidence from their performance in yesterday's team time trial in Nice, which indicated the team's Tour was on track even as they missed out on victory by less than a second.
"Yesterday, the result was disappointing, but the way we rode wasn't," said Cavendish. "We spoke about it as a team and agreed that we rode really well considering that one of our guys [Tony Martin] has only got two per cent of his skin left after the first day, and he's got the biggest engine. Plus, Gert [Steegmans] is not in a great way after crashing, and I've been ill. We've given everything again to try for the win and obviously we're really happy."
Cavendish described the final sprint as "not too difficult for me today" and added: "I didn't really do anything. If I'd have lost that I would have let the guys down. Matteo [Trentin] did a massive turn into the last corner and then Gert stayed really, really patient. [Lotto's Greg] Henderson went early and Gert went with him, and Gert went with such speed that I didn't really accelerate off his wheel. I just carried on at the speed that he delivered me at. It was only for the last 150 metres, I left it really, really late."
The British sprinter revealed he is still suffering slightly with a chest infection that has dogged him since the days before the Tour started. But, he said, his health is improving every day. He also admitted to a flashback to his very first pro race late in the stage.
"We put a lot of planning into doing what we can to win. We made sure we knew the last climb, the uncategorised climb [of the Gineste]. When we got to it I remembered it from the GP Marseillaise, which was my first race as a professional. I said to myself: 'I know this climb.' Jeremy Hunt won the year I did it [2007.- Ed], so I knew just a kilometre and a half was difficult and that was where I'd have to hang on. The guys stayed around me there."
Cavendish's 24th Tour stage win moved him just one behind André Leducq, whose 25 victories place him third in the all-time list behind Eddy Merckx (34) and Bernard Hinault (28). Asked whether he had these records as targets, Cavendish replied: "Obviously we come and attempt to win when we can, and I aim to multiple stages each year, but setting any goal or number does one of two things. It either sets you up to fail at something or it puts a mark on what you want to achieve and you can end up not moving forwards after you've done that. I changed teams because I realised this race is everything for me. I want to keep coming for the rest of my career and try to keep winning as much as possible."
He paid a final tribute to the two lead-out men who did the spadework for him in the last kilometre of the stage. "Gert sometimes gets a bad rap, especially from the Belgian press, but he's a super guy. When we were on different teams I used to fight with him a little bit, but he was one of the guys I was looking forward to racing with when I joined Omega Pharma-QuickStep. We gel together so well with Matteo Trentin. They are a great mix of experience and youth. We all work well together, and they both make my job so much easier," said Cavendish.