Mark Cavendish and his Dimension Data team continued their hugely successful Tour de France with a third sprint victory in Montauban, meaning Cavendish is now back to his very best, winning 50 per cent of the stages so far on the race.
Cavendish was also back to his best when speaking to the written media at the Tour de France, responding to probing questions with a smile and eloquent answers only letting slip once that he 'doesn't give a shit what people say' and insisting that he would be happy if he only ever won one more Tour de France stage in his career, despite having already won 29. Moving past Bernhard Hinault in the all-time list of stage winner is also of little interest to him.
"I'm really happy with that. Half of the stages have been won by Dimension Data. It's been a good Tour for us," he pointed out, before giving an inside view of the stage finale and sprint.
"The guys were incredible today. There was one finish with 11km to go when the road narrowed and then another at the line. We were not in an ideal situation late on because we got stuck behind Degenkolb and his Giant team. There were some GC guys up there, making it sketchy for a bit. Mark Renshaw did a good job earlier there. He had to do a big move with three kilometres to go. It was a bit like the Wild West in last two kilometres but then I got on Kittel's wheel and it was perfect. He’s the biggest and fastest and I knew that I could get a slingshot and go 3km/h faster."
The evolution of the Tour de France sprints
Before the start of the stage, Cyclingnews spoke to Head of Performance at Dimension Data Rolf Aldag. He has worked with Cavendish for much of the Manxman's career and understands him and how sprinting at this year's Tour de France has evolved. With the current speed in the final kilometres, no one team can lead out the sprint, forcing riders to surf off rivals' wheels and slipstreams. Aldag believes this gives Cavendish an advantage, which he uses ruthlessly.
"We've seen that no one team can lead it out in the final kilometres and still have the legs to look after their sprinter and lead him to the finish. Now you have to stay flexible and have a different scenario read," Aldag explained to Cyclingnews.
"I think this new, more hectic style of sprinting suits Mark. And I think he's polished his sprinting skills by riding and racing more on the track in recent months as he prepares for the Olympics in Rio. There's no sports director on the track to help you and so you have to make split-second decisions. That sharpens your brain and helps you in these very hectic Tour sprints too."
Cyclingnews put Aldag's analysis to Cavendish.
"He's pretty right on both accounts," the Manxman said.
"There's a reason that I've had Rolf with me for most of my career; he sees things that I even don't see. He listens to me even when I moan and does his utmost to sort them out. With him and Roger Hammond we've got the most formidable sports directors in the team car. We do have a plan but the races go pretty much how they suggest it will. That's testament to have them. I'm lucky to have them on my side."
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Cavendish is now 31 and has been winning Tour de France sprints since 2008 and took his first professional win a decade ago. He crashed hard and fractured his shoulder in the opening Tour de France sprint in Harrogate in 2014 but that and age has not slowed him. This winter he added track training to his road work to earn selection for the Great Britain track team at the Rio Olympics and also has the world road race championships in Qatar as a final goal.
His goal is still to win bike races but after some thought he admitted that he has changed since his early days at HTC and Columbia.
"I don't take being the fastest for granted any more," he said.
"When I started 10 years ago there weren't any guys putting out 2000 Watts, there no aerodynamic bikes, no skin suits, no aerodynamic helmets and you had to be able to climb as well. Now you can go faster as a big, powerful, heavy guy, a guy who puts out X amount watts is stronger than somebody who puts out 30-40% less power. But cycling is also a unique sport; all different sizes and physiologies can race together. You have to make work what works for you."
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