With a perfect lead-out from his Omega Pharma-Quickstep teammates, British champion Mark Cavendish turned the tide for the Belgian team in stage 5 of the Tour de France in Marseille. The four previous stages in la Grande Boucle left the team from Patrick Lefevere with nothing but frustration.
Tuesday's narrowly loss in the team time trial proved a huge blow. With the Manxman's convincing win, the coin seems to have flipped. The emotions after the finish line in Marseille showed that the tension was building, but now the Omega Pharma-Quickstep team has opened its account for the 100th Tour de France.
"All the emotions flared up now. The bad luck from the first day, then Sylvain who doesn't win while Bakelants did and yesterday arriving at 0.75 of a second. If you're not frustrated after yesterday then you're never going to be frustrated. We tried to turn it into motivation. Brama [Davide Bramati] is very good at that. Mark [Cavendish] also knew that all big sprinters have won in Marseille. He's keen on joining famous names in the history books. He kicks on that stuff," Lefevere said.
Cavendish now has 24 wins in the Tour de France which is only one behind third-ranked André Leducq. Eddy Merckx is in sight. The 'Cannibal' captured 34 wins at the Tour. Cavendish also captured his 45th win in one of the three Grand Tours which puts him three wins down on third-ranked Alessandro Petacchi. Merckx tops this list with 64 wins.
Though it seemed like Omega Pharma-Quickstep was in total control of affairs in Wednesday's stage, it turned out that Lefevere was quite worried about the breakaway during the stage. At a certain moment the breakaway group had more than ten minutes on the peloton and still Omega Pharma-Quickstep was not putting their men at the front. At the finish it was clear that Lefevere had been discussing tactics with sports director Wilfried Peeters, with Lefevre the more nervous of the two.
"It's not that I have no nerves but there are strong guys who can do the work. We feared the Col de la Gineste [at 12km from the finish]. On Sunday Mark was one of the first riders to get dropped. So if we had chased with the whole team and then lost Cavendish then we'd have looked stupid. That's why we put only one man up front. That way we had enough men for the finale," Wilfried Peeters said. Lefevre noticed that Cavendish was climbing well on the Gineste.
"He was the best of the sprinters. The team gained confidence and went full gas. This time everything went to perfection," Lefevere said. "With a super De Gendt it would be tight. Of course, riding 200km ahead of the peloton in the Tour de France – with all respect to Thomas – is not the same as Paris-Nice. That under-23 world champion [Alexey Lutsenko (Astana)] was strong too. We knew that we had to get within a minute of the leaders at the Col de la Gineste [at 12km from the finish] and that succeeded. From there we dominated the sprint. Only when that Euskaltel rider moved to the front, the organization was disturbed. Matteo Trentin did a great job there and entered the last corner in first position. That was crucial. The road went from very wide to narrow there."
"During the final kilometres it's up to the boys and there's radio silence so that they can focus on their task. About two times we feared that things went wrong because they were boxed in but it always opens up. You can't control it completely and it'll never be perfect," Tom Steels said. The latter is sports director and a former sprinter, the team's mastermind for the sprint tactics.
According to Wilfried Peeters, the key to success now is sticking to the original plans. "After the British championships, Mark got ill and a few days later he needed antibiotics. We kept it quiet but nevertheless it was in his body. Cavendish is someone you have to leave alone at first. After a stage we let things cool down for half an hour and then we visit the rooms to talk with the boys. We just have to let Mark do his thing and eventually the win will come."