Mark Cavendish claims first Tour de France yellow jersey of his career at Utah Beach
One down, two to go from Manxman's 2016 targets
At the start of the year, Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data) made his season ambitions crystal clear – wear yellow, win Olympic Gold and claim a second world road race title. One, two, three. He made it sound easy.
At end of the first stage of the Tour de France, he could put a big tick through ambition number one – winning ahead of sprint nemesis Marcel Kittel (Etixx-QuickStep) and Peter Sagan (Tinkoff) at Utah Beach to pull on the first maillot jaune of this year's race.
For the 31-year-old Dimension Data rider, this was a seminal moment. He has won so many stages in the Tour – 27 to be exact – that they nearly all blur into one, but never before has he pulled on yellow. When asked about the prospect at a pre-Tour de France press conference he dismissed the long-term ambition but there was no hiding his pride on Saturday.
"I'm so happy. I really wanted to win here today. The lads were incredible. Edvald [Boasson Hagen] did the most incredible turn at the end. He rode out of his skin today. I'm so happy to do this for Dimension Data today," Cavendish said at the mixed zone.
"It's quite emotional. This is the only jersey in cycling I've not worn. I've had all three points jerseys, the Worlds jerseys and the leader's jerseys in the Giro and the Vuelta and now this. I just wanted to win the stage and to wear this jersey is an honour. I've built my whole career on this race."
The machinations of the Tour mixed zone essentially involve press from around the globe asking the same question is as many different ways as possible. The stage winner – in this case Cavendish - duly plays his part, shuffling from broadcaster to broadcaster until planet cycling has their fill and the rider is handed over to the media in the press conference. Occasionally, though, a question is provided that gives a better and deeper glimpse into a rider's thoughts.
Near the end of his mixed zone stint, former rider David McKenzie, now of SBS, asked Cavendish whether, at his age, the respect of his peers was important to him.
"There are a few guys who fucking hate me in the peloton," was Cavendish's blunt but fair response.
"This is my tenth tour de France from the beginning and I've had the pressure to win. I don't know any different. From 2008 it's been the end of me, that's how it is and it's something to talk about. These are the days that I'll look back and remember. I've made some incredible friends."
When Cavendish arrived at the media press conference he appeared eager to head back to his hotel and spend deserved time with his teammates and his young family who have joined him for the start of the Tour.
"Every Tour de France stage is a life changing moment," he said. "It's the first time I've had the honour of wearing the most iconic jersey in cycling, the yellow jersey and I'm incredibly proud do to that. For a day, at least."
The sprint itself was predictably nervous and fraught affair. Cavendish was dropped off by his teammates with a few hundred metres to go and from there he was left to his own devices. Etixx later said that they had messed up their leadout for Kittel, but the British rider still had an awful lot to do in the final 300 meters. First he fought his way onto André Greipel's leadout after Mark Renshaw had peeled off, and then when Peter Sagan jumped too early, Cavendish latched on and used the world champion's slipstream. Kittel reacted too late and Sagan had left the door marginally open. From there, Cavendish could sense victory.
"We thought that it was going to be a full on tailwind but it changed towards the end. That threw me a little bit. Mark and Edvald worked hard but I didn't want to go then. I was able to follow and Sagan went first. I followed and then saw Kittel come on the left. Sagan left a gap on the right and I had to take it. I knew that when Kittel reached his terminal velocity I still had something left."
One major ambition down. Two more to go.
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Daniel Benson was the Editor in Chief at Cyclingnews.com between 2008 and 2022. Based in the UK, he joined the Cyclingnews team in 2008 as the site's first UK-based Managing Editor. In that time, he reported on over a dozen editions of the Tour de France, several World Championships, the Tour Down Under, Spring Classics, and the London 2012 Olympic Games. With the help of the excellent editorial team, he ran the coverage on Cyclingnews and has interviewed leading figures in the sport including UCI Presidents and Tour de France winners.