Mark Cavendish and his Dimension Data team produced their best lead out and sprint so far in this year’s Tour de France, with the Manxman in the mix and on Dylan Groenewegen’s wheel until 200 metres to go.
A touch of wheels with Alexander Kristoff (UAE Team Emirates) slowed Cavendish and he faded as Groenewegen (LottoNL-Jumbo) powered away to victory, beating Fernando Gaviria (Quick-Step Floors) and Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe). With the win gone, Cavendish eased up and finished 10th, but the result told just a small part of Cavendish’s sprint.
Buoyed by his and Dimension Data’s performance, Cavendish was happy to give his take on his best performance of the week. Some have written off Cavendish’s chances of winning sprints and dismissed his goal of winning four more stages so that he can match Eddy Merckx’s record of 34 Tour de France stage victories.
“I was following quite good wheels, but it was choppy. I was picking wheels. I seemed to be good. But now when Quick-Step and Bora kind of go, I can’t match that speed, I can’t go that fast. I just can’t do it,” Cavendish said with real insight from inside the sprint.
“I thought when I kicked in the last metres I had a chance. I was floating. I was quite excited. I looked at my power and it was petty good! Then I had a little come together with Alex in the end. I think it might have been my fault. It just kind of stopped me dead.”
Dimension Data take on Quick-Step and Bora
Dimension Data took up the lead out in the final 10 kilometres, showing they have the speed and skills to control the peloton and match Quick-Step Floors, Bora-Hansgrohe and anyone else. Unfortunately, the right turn with two kilometres to go shuffled the lead-out trains. and then lined out the riders. At that point Cavendish had to do his own thing.
“Things when right until I lost the guys in the last two kilometres; I was crunched in the corner and that was the crunch point,” Cavendish said.
“That pinch point messed up a lot of lead-out trains. There are a few renegades about, but then you just had to slot in. The speed was super high. I saw the sprinters all around me and with only one or two guys. I jumped from wheel to wheel and was moving good. It was a headwind, and so it was always going to be easiest to move from wheel to wheel. Until 200 metres, I felt good and was happy.”
Cavendish has rarely performed well in the early sprints at the Tour de France, seemingly needing a few days to find his speed and form to win. His string of crashes and injuries in the spring means he is coming back from zero, with only two months of racing and training in his legs.
His morale was understandably high after the sprint to Chartres.
“I didn’t win, and that’s that," he said. "My back's against the wall the whole time, but I'll keep trying. It's not going to be easy for us to win here, but all we can do is try. We’ll keep doing that. We have a great morale in the team."
Another sign that Cavendish is on the way back was a final simple remark, when asked if his performance was good for confidence.
“I always have confidence,” he concluded.