Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data) on Sunday fired a shot across the bow of his rivals for the UCI Road World Championship title a week from now, proving in Paris-Tours that he's recovered from a recent illness and is ready to fight for the rainbow jersey next week in Doha, Qatar.
Cavendish's start in the one-day race was up in the air just days ago after his team announced he was suffering from an intestinal infection, but he was in the mix during Sunday's final sprint in Paris-Tours before Fernando Gaviria (Etixx-QuickStep) capitalised on a moment's hesitation in the bunch in the final kilometres to jump away for victory.
After a hectic finale with multiple teams swapping control on the front, the Manxman found himself out of position and used his sprint to move up in the final 300 metres. He then eased up before the line, however, finishing sixth, one place ahead of Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis).
"They changed the course to favour the sprinters going to World Champs, so it was pretty clear with so many sprinters here the race would be controlled," said Dimension Data director Alex Sans Vega. "It is a race where wind can play a role, but today there was very little wind. After 40km seven riders from teams without sprinters broke away. We did not leave a big gap, the maximum advantage was four minutes."
In the group were Warren Barguil (Giant-Alpecin), Arnaud Gérard (Fortuneo Vital Concept), Floris Gerts (BMC), Pirmin Lang (IAM Cycling), Kevin Lebreton (Armée de Terre), Brian Van Goethem (Roompot-Orange) and Maarten Wynants (LottoNL-Jumbo). They opened a gap but the sprinter’s teams kept them pegged at three minutes, indicating their intentions. The escapees were eventually reeled in with 15km to race.
More attacks started to fly, including a solo move from Greg van Avermaet (BMC Racing) and then another group of two after Van Avermaet was caught, but the Cofidis team of Bouhanni, FDJ of Arnaud Démare and Team Sky of Elia Viviani kept the pace high and marshalled the peloton, with everything coming together again at the seven kilometre mark, setting up the final bunch sprint.
"Even though there wasn’t much wind, when there was it was a tailwind so it was better to keep it under close control," Vega said. "With 40km to go we rode on the front for Cavendish. In the final Cav was a bit behind after being boxed in on the last corner. Demare slowed down the sprint when Gaviria went so some guys also came around Cav near the line, but it was a good test for him, showing he is over his illness ahead of the World Championships."