When you win, the world looks a rather different place. Following victory on stage 7 of the Tour de France in Fougères, his first of this race after two unsuccessful sprints, Mark Cavendish (Etixx-QuickStep) found mirth in unexpected places
Post-stage press conferences at the Tour are held via a two-way video link, to spare the winner and yellow jersey a long trudge to the press room. From his vantage point in a mobile broadcast unit near the finish line, Cavendish performed a double take at the monitor in front of him at one point during his conference on Friday.
"Is there a dude in the press room with socks on? Did I just see someone just in their socks?" Cavendish said, emitting a laugh that would not have been out at all of place in Tom Hulce’s portrayal of Mozart. "Yeah, there he is with his socks on."
When unravelling the intricacies of a bunch finish, certainly, Cavendish operates on a different plane of understanding than just about everyone else. A reporter wondered what question he would most like to be asked, and it was perhaps telling that the Manxman offered his usual, forensic recap of the day’s bunch finish by way of response.
After opening his sprint too early and fading at both Zeeland on stage 2 and Amiens on stage 5, Cavendish got his lines right on the slightly uphill finishing straight in Fougères, choosing the right time to swap Alexander Kristoff’s wheel for that of his former teammate André Greipel. He came around Greipel inside the final 150 metres and then held him off for the win.
"The last two sprints the team have done good, but I’ve just kind of been too anxious, I’ve gone too early," Cavendish said. "That’s the thing about the Tour: in another race where you maybe wait, in the Tour you have to hit out. In another race there are maybe one or two guys who’ll come around you, in the Tour ten guys will come around you if you hesitate and then you lose the stage. I’ve just been a bit over-anxious the last two times and today’s been about not being impatient.
"If André had closed it down I might not have won, but André sprinted straight – he’s a gentleman – and I was able to come through. I had the same power as the other days but if you wait and do it you come with a little more speed than if you hit out with 200-250 metres to go."
When Cavendish claimed his first victory of the 2010 Tour in Montargis, he famously burst into tears on the podium, such was the pressure he had placed upon himself following a trying early season. There was no such overt display of emotion five years on, but the win was no less significant.
It marked the 26th victory of Cavendish’s Tour career and his first since he claimed stage 13 in Saint-Amand-Montrand two years ago. In the intervening period, Marcel Kittel has staked his own claim to be the best sprinter in the world, and in the German’s absence this year, Cavendish was strongly expected to add to his running tally of Tour success.
"I think every one of the 26 is special, it’s the Tour de France. One stage in a rider’s career makes his whole career. To get one in a year is a big thing. I think it’s been my longest spell in the Tour de France without a win. Two years is a long time so to get back to winning ways is nice," said Cavendish, who earlier dedicated his victory to his teammate Tony Martin, forced out the Tour overnight with a broken collarbone following his crash at Le Havre. "It’s almost if we started the race with 12 guys and now we’ve got 8 guys, that’s what losing Tony is like."
It remains to be seen how many opportunities Cavendish will have to tack on more victories at this most mountainous of Tours. There have been just three days for the pure sprinters thus far, and the pickings are even more meagre for the fast men as the race traverses the Pyrenees and Massif Central in week two.
"There may be Valence, there may be other ones, like Rodez, but that’s a hard finish," Cavendish said, adding that Peter Sagan, third on Friday, was again the overwhelming favourite for the points classification. "That’s another green jersey for him."
Given the terrain ahead, Etixx-QuickStep manager Patrick Lefevere’s pre-race target of five stages wins for Cavendish looks ever more ambitious, though every victory between now and Paris will surely carry weight in their impending contract negotiations. Cavendish’s current deal with the squad expires at the end of this season and he has yet to sign a new one, though he made no secret of his desire to remain put.
"I’ve said all along that I’ve grown with this team," Cavendish said. "I’m happy here, you can see the ambience. I’d love to stay here, I really would."