There were smiles all around as Team Sky's riders made their way back to the team bus to go through their "warming down" routine in the wake of Mark Cavendish's stage victory in Tournai. Beaming team boss Dave Brailsford marvelled at his sprinter's superlative skill, saying that Cavendish had proved he was the world's best sprinter having triumphed against the odds.
"The finish was a little bit less technical so that was a good thing. But credit to Mark. He's shown there why he's the best sprinter in the world," said Brailsford. "He popped up on Greipel's wheel and how he got there who knows? That's why we've got every confidence in him even though there's a lot of talk about him needing a leadout train.
"Of course, if he has a leadout train then he can perform miraculously. However, even without it you shouldn't forget how he's got to where he is. He's brilliant at surfing that peloton and positioning himself. He knows the other riders and how to pick the right wheels and he seems to make more right split-second decisions than wrong ones. When he is in that position he doesn't usually lose. To have a British world champion in a British team winning the first sprint stage in that style, well we're just lucky to have him."
Brailsford felt it was psychologically important for Cavendish to perform well in this first bunch sprint. "There was a lot of talk about young Kittel and Sagan, and about Greipel going particularly well, but I think he's answered them in the best possible way," he said.
Bernie Eisel, who, together with Edvald Boasson Hagen, had been given the task of helping Cavendish in the closing kilometres, admitted he hadn't been surprised by the finale. "It was pretty much how we expected it. We don't have the lead-out train we've had in previous years, but Mark's shown already this year that he's able to win sprints without the train, just floating around and then moving up in the last moment."
The Austrian, who said that he's never seen Cavendish in such good shape going into the Tour, added: "I think it will take some time before he trusts me and Eddy like he trusted Mark Renshaw last year. We've got another three weeks to work it out but I'm happy for him and happy that he won this stage."
Yellow jersey Fabian Cancellara also praised Cavendish's performance. "He's shown off his jersey very well today. Usually he comes here with a sprint train but this year it's very difficult for him so that was really some performance. He's pulled off a real big number here today," said the Swiss.
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Peter Cossins has written about professional cycling since 1993 and is a contributing editor to Procycling. He is the author of The Monuments: The Grit and the Glory of Cycling's Greatest One-Day Races (Bloomsbury, March 2014) and has translated Christophe Bassons' autobiography, A Clean Break (Bloomsbury, July 2014).
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