Despite a commanding team performance, Etixx-QuickStep were left empty-handed after an ultimately disappointing day at the Tour de France. Mark Cavendish missed out on the stage win to Andre Griepel (Lotto Soudal) and Tony Martin saw the yellow jersey slip through his fingers and go to arch rival Fabian Cancellara (Trek Factory Racing).
Stage 2 from Utrecht to Zelande had Etixx-Quickstep written all over it. From the flat parcours to the enveloping route with battering crosswinds – the only thing that would have made the Belgian team more at home would have been if team manager Patrick Lefevere had laid down the laminate QuickStep tiles on the route the night before.
However, despite a strong opening hand in which Mark Cavendish and no fewer than five of his teammates split the peloton, the team eventually came up short. From a position where the stage win – via Cavendish - and the yellow jersey for Martin, were all possibilities, the team could only watch on as Andre Greipel claimed the win and Cancellara yellow, courtesy of a two-second bonus he picked up by beating Cavendish into fourth on the line.
Had Cavendish finished third, at least the team would have been able to console themselves with a yellow jersey but after a all their hard work they were undone by a poor leadout by their standards and expectations.
Having dropped overnight leader Rohan Dennis (BMC) in the crosswinds, Martin became the virtual race leader thanks to his second place in the opening time trial.
But in the sprint Cavendish was dropped off with well over 200 metres to go by Mark Renshaw with a headwind and Greipel on his wheel.
“It was a headwind finish and I just spoke with Mark [Renshaw] and I think he went too early and left me hanging,” Cavendish told the media when he stepped off the Etixx-QuickStep bus.
“Maybe I could have waited but that would have been a risky move. With a headwind finish ideally I'd want to go with less than 200 to go but it was more. I knew it was a gamble. Today there was three guys who rode it right and if you look at the video I gave them a bit of a leadout,” Cavendish said, aware that human error and tired legs can creep in.
“I’m disappointed, but we can take the positives with how strong our team rode today. Etixx-Quickstep forced the split and rode unselfishly. We settled on going for the stage win and you saw Tony Martin riding on the front. We’re disappointed that we didn’t get it but that’s the Tour de France. Losing out to Andre Greipel isn’t too much of a bad thing.
“The fact that Cancellara has beaten me. I wasn’t like I had a bad sprint. You can see I’ve gone from too long. When Cancellara beats me in the sprint it means I’ve gone from too long.”
Etixx-QuickStep, with their six riders in the lead group, at least provided their manager and sponsors with a strong performance but that should make the result even more frustrating for a team that has won so much this season. After finishing second in the opening time trial with Martin, today’s result will only hurt even more. However, the Tour de France provides 21 days and 21 opportunities. Tomorrow sees the race climb the Mur and gives Uran, now seventh on GC, and world champion Michal Kwiatkowski a chance to shine. As for Cavendish’s next chance, the Manxman said: “Down to Cambrai [ed. stage 4] on the cobblestones isn’t beyond reach but the day after that is more likely to be a bunch sprint.”
Two opportunities missed but 19 more to come.