Mark Cavendish said illness sidetracked his hopes for a 27th Tour de France stage win Sunday in Valence. The Manx Missile was off the back, fighting to make the time cut, when the predicted bunch sprint materialised and Andre Greipel took his third victory of the 2015 race.
The Etixx-QuickStep sprinter, who was dropped on the first climb and forced to chase for the rest of the stage, said he was plagued with an upset stomach the night before.
"I was up last night with stomach problems," Cavendish said. "In terms of the team's tactics, we prayed it would be an easy start. But we had the plan to get guys in the breakaway anyway.”
The 18km category 3 Cote de Badaroux began less than 10km into the stage and proved to be a rude awakening for Cavendish and his plan to add another Tour stage win to his palmares. After crashing out of the 2014 race during the fist stage, Cavendish notched his 26th Tour win this year on the stage 7 run to Fougères. The stage 15 route looked like a ripe opportunity to add another, but Cavendish had long since lost contact with the main group by the time Greipel, John Degenkolb (Giant-Alpecin), Alexander Kristoff (Team Katusha) and Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo) battled it out on the finishing straight.
“I felt empty at the start,” Cavendish said. “It's a shame because I was going good in the last couple of days. I had Mark Renshaw and Michal Golas with me, and we thought there was a chance we could come back. But once Katusha got on the front, and the TV cameras realize there's a chase happening and so go to the front of the peloton, you know it's going to be a long day for us guys behind.”
While Cavendish languished in the grupetto, his teammates Michal Kwiatkowski and Matteo Trentin infiltrated the nine-rider breakaway that held court until the peloton reeled them back to set up the bunch sprint. Trentin soloed away from the breakaway before it was caught, and he was soon joined by Cannondale-Garmin's Ryder Hesjedal.
"We just tried to stay away and it didn't work," Trentin said. "We were focused on the stage win. We just tried 100 percent to go to the finish, and we will try again like this if there is another opportunity in the next days."
After the break had been caught, Etixx-QuickStep's Zdenek Stybar tired to sneak away in the closing kilometres, but that move was also neutralised.
"Sport Director Brian Holm was saying in my ears that at 3.6km to go it was good to go by myself," Stybar said. "I was hoping someone would join me, but this didn't happen. Unfortunately, the last 3km it was a full headwind, and just straight forward roads with no turns. It was me against the peloton. But like we've been saying this entire Tour, when you don't try you'll never win."
Cavendish missed out on the fireworks in the stage finale and eventually finished more than 15 minutes behind the winner.
“After about 30km we knew it was about surviving the day,” he said. “We knew there wasn't a chance to win with me. But we knew there were guys that were in the break, which is really good. It was a hard day for us, but I'm still in Le Tour de France. I'm looking forward to just trying to get to Paris and I hope I am not ill in the next days."