Has Cavendish lost his Tour de France sprint crown?
Kelly, Moncassin and Guimard defend the Manxman after he loses to Kittel
Marcel Kittel's third stage victory at the Tour de France and Mark Cavendish's defeat by the German rider has sparked a multitude of comment, debate, analysis and also suggestions that a change in the sprinting hierarchy in the peloton may be underway.
Cavendish has dominated the sprints at the Tour de France and elsewhere for the last five years but now Kittel and his Argos-Shimano lead-out train have taken over and are stacking up the stage victories, while Cavendish remains with just one win in Marseille.
There seem to be a multitude of reasons why.
The Manx Missile left Team Sky due to a lack of sprinting support but his Omega Pharma-QuickStep team has been hot and cold this year. They played a key role in Cavendish winning five stages and the points jersey at the Giro d'Italia but have struggled against the powerful well-drilled lead-out trains of Argos-Shimano and Lotto Belisol, that have both peaked for the Tour de France.
It has been suggested that Cavendish has lost some of top end speed and maybe even be past his best at 28. It is only fair to include factors in the debate that can explain why Cavendish is not at his best in this year's Tour de France.
Cavendish is the only big-name sprinter here to have finished the Giro d'Italia. He was also ill coming into the Tour but only took antibiotics after winning the British national championships. Cavendish perhaps knows he is not at his best and has so far sportingly accepted defeat, shaking hands with Kittel after Thursday's sprint in Tours and praising him on Twitter. However he is no doubt looking to win in Saint-Amand-Montrond and on the Champs Elysees in Paris.
Kelly, Moncassin and Guimard give their opinion
Sean Kelly, the green points jersey winner at the 1982, 1983, 1985 and 1989 Tours de France suggested to L'Equipe that it is Kittel who is at his best and slightly faster than Cavendish, rather than the Manxman losing his speed.
Frenchman Frederic Moncassin, two-time stage winner in 1996, suggested that Cavendish's real problem lies with his lead-out train and the lack of a real poisson pilote.
"Cavendish is still fast but he was dropped off too early. The other day (at Saint-Malo) Cav didn't follow Steegmans and got on Veelers wheel instead. I've got the feeling that he hasn't got full confidence in Steegmans and that's why he wants Renshaw back. He's missing a true leadout man," he told L'Equipe.
"I also think he's still looking for the right strategy in his team. The real problem isn't his maximum speed, it's when Kittel gets on his wheel."
Former sprinter, directeur sportif and now television commentator, Cyril Guimard suggested that Cavendish is being forced to go too deep before he launches his sprint, costing that bit of decisive finishing speed.
"Cavendish hasn’t lost his speed but the race situations have played against him," Guimard said.
"I also think his legs were tired after making too many efforts before the sprint. Perhaps he has been in the wind (due to poor positioning), while Kittel is more patient. He's riding like a track sprinter."
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