With Columbia-HTC's Mark Cavendish being this year's "man to beat" in Tour de France bunch sprint finishes, challengers of the fast Manxman feel "frustrated" with their inability to equal the final speed of the four-times stage winner.
In Wednesday's stage 11 to Saint-Fargeau, second-placed Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Slipstream) was the only one who came close to Cavendish. "It's frustrating to come second but at the same time you can see there are only a few guys going that fast right now," the young American rider said in the finish.
Belgian Tom Boonen, without luck since the start of this Tour, noted that "there won't be many more opportunities [to beat Cavendish] before reaching Paris. In the final kilometre, I tried in vain to take Cavendish's wheel. I lost my teammates and had to manage on my own." Unlike Farrar, who has had a few very good placings behind Cavendish at this Tour, the Quick Step sprinter only finished 16th of the stage.
Milram sprinter Gerald Ciolek, another one of Cavendish's rivals, said he was "disappointed. It's extremely difficult to beat him. We prepared the sprint really well, and my teammates put me in a good position. But I lacked some strength in the final." The German ended up seventh.
Thursday's stage 12 from Tonnerre to Vittel might be one of the last possibilities to get around the Manxman at this Tour. The day's profile looks rugged with six categorized climbs and many more bumps to master, but it won't be impossible to make it come down to a sprint if several teams pull to reel in the very probable breakaway. That is, if Columbia-HTC's rivals still have hope to get the better of Mark Cavendish...