It says a huge amount about Mark Cavendish’s tenacity and sprinting ability that he not only won the bunch sprint into Bordeaux, but did so only hours after considering abandoning the Tour de France. “I didn’t know whether I’d be starting today when I got up this morning,” the HTC-Columbia sprinter revealed in Bordeaux. “I’ve been sick for the four days in the Pyrenees. I had bronchitis that wouldn’t go away. During last night I got a fever and I thought it was over for the Tour.”
He continued: “But having a team like this is a luxury for a team leader. Bernie [Eisel] delivered me to the final kilometre to perfection and I moved from train to train smoothly from there. When Petacchi went with 275m left I thought, ‘Bollocks, I’ve left this too late.’ He got a really good jump on me, but I’m really happy with how well I responded. I was lucky that he went to the left as the wind was coming from the left and that made my job easier. It meant that I could come by him on the right and get some shelter from him, which played in my favour.”
Cavendish dedicated the win to team-mate Mark Renshaw, who was thrown off the race after the headbutting incident in Bourg lès Valence on stage 11. “It’s more difficult sprinting without Mark as he makes my job really easy. He takes me to 200m in first place and I just have finish off the job. But I’m lucky that we’ve got other guys who were able to set me up in the last kilometre.
“But I’ve missed Mark in other ways too. I’ve missed having someone around suffering more than me in the Pyrenees. I’ve missed having someone in my room who I can have a laugh with about how hard this race is. So this win is for him.”
Asked if his win had been as easy as he had made it look, Cavendish replied: “It’s hard to know how big the gap is. I am just going as hard as I can and I don’t know what’s happening behind. It doesn’t matter whether it’s five bike lengths or half a bike length, what matters is winning because the Tour de France is so hard.
“I was trying to save as much as possible because tomorrow I’ve got to ride for 50km on my own and I’m only used to doing 200m on my own. So I was trying to save myself as much as possible for that.”
Cavendish’s fourth stage victory of this race moved him to 14 in total, leaving him just one behind legendary Belgian sprinter Freddy Maertens in the ranking of all-time Tour stage winners. “I’ve always hoped to be considered in the same category as Erik Zabel, Sean Kelly, Freddy Maertens and Mario [Cipollini],” said the Briton. “These are the guys I knew about when I was young and looked up to. To be mentioned in the same sentence as these guys is a great honour for me.”
Now 16 points down on new points leader Alessandro Petacchi, Cavendish said of his chances of finishing the race in the green jersey: “I’m going to try to win on the Champs Elysées whatever happens. That’s all I can do.”
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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).