As Mark Cavendish (Deceuninck-QuickStep) won the sprint at the Tour de France in Fourgères his sprint rivals could only bow their heads, both in respect and in defeat, as they filled the photographs of the Manxman celebrating his incredible comeback victory after three years in the wilderness.
Nacer Bouhanni (Arkéa-Samsic), Jasper Philipsen (Alpecin-Fenix), Michael Matthews (Team BikeExchange) and Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) can all be seen behind Cavendish wearing different expressions of defeat.
“What a pity. When the sprint opened for me it was too late,” Bouhanni regretted.
“It was important to take the inside line along the barriers because the finish appears with just 50 metres to go but I was on the outside.
"I was behind Cavendish in the intermediate sprint and again at the finish, that hurts. Arkéa-Samsic came to the Tour to win a stage and so I’m not happy with second place. Now we’ve got perhaps six chances left including the Champs-Élysées in Paris. I want to come back strong for the stage to Châteauroux on Thursday.”
Philipsen was unable to continue the Alpecin-Fenix run of stage wins but he went very close. He lead the sprinters past Brent van Moer (Lotto Soudal) and took the tighter inside line but was unable to hold his sprint as the road rose slightly and Cavendish came past him to win.
“I opened my sprint at the right time but I soon felt that I didn't have the power I needed to finish it off,” he explained.
“That’s a real pity.The pressure is high because we already have two wins. We have another top sprinter in our team in Tim Merlier and he won on Monday but when it was turn, I missed out. It's disappointing that I don't immediately seize my chance."
“I didn't expect to have so much trouble beating Cavendsh,” Philipsen said with respect but belief in his own ability.
“I’ve bumped into him before and he has already cost me some victories this year. But the most experienced and the strongest rider in the sport won this sprint. I missed a great opportunity and that is painful.”
Matthews had witnessed Cavendish’s enthusiasm and joy at being back at the Tour de France as they travelled to the start in Brest via Paris last Wednesday. In Fourgères he saw the Manxman rediscover his Tour de France sprinting skills and speed but could only watch from behind and try to fight for a placing.
Matthews was fourth on the line and as a consolation he scored 18 points for the green jersey competition. He also scored 10 points at the intermediate sprint and so moved up to third in the classification, only 11 points behind new leader Cavendish and four points down on Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-QuickStep). Matthews is now ahead of Bouhanni, Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) and major rival Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe), who only has 48 points while Matthews has 78.
“That was like every other Tour de France sprint; hectic,” Matthews said.
“With the resources we had there with just me and Luka Mezgec in the final, we had to wait and then make a run at the end. Luka did a great job positioning me in the final there and I finished fourth. Of course I came to win, but I have to be satisfied with fourth place.”
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