The simmering rivalry between the Etixx-QuickStep team of Mark Cavendish and the Tinkoff-Saxo squad led by Peter Sagan at the Tour of California will likely end up on the back burner during today’s stage in San Jose. The climb over Mt. Hamilton and the uphill finish on Metcalf Road could rule out the type of bunch sprint finish that has seen Cavendish win the first two stages of this year’s race.
But the sprint teams could face off again during stage 4 to Avila Beach, stage 5 to Santa Clarita and the final day in Pasadena on Sunday. Cavendish has obviously had the upper hand so far, beating Sagan by several bike lengths on the opening day and narrowly edging him out Monday in Lodi.
On each occasion, Cavendish has taken the opportunity to castigate his rival’s team for not contributing to the chase. After Sunday’s opening stage, Cavendish said the Tinkoff-Saxo riders only came to the front after the TV cameras came on, and on Monday he pointed out once again that his team did the bulk of the work to bring back the break.
“Tinkoff did some at the end, but it was when the gap had come down a lot by then,” he said, adding that because his team had to pull so hard so late in the stage, they only had four fresh riders for the finale compared to eight for the other sprint teams.
Guillame Van Keirsbulck, one of the riders QuickStep had to throw into the race late to bring back the breakaway, explained the dilemma.
“The problem is everybody knows Cav is the fastest here, and they are a little bit scared of us,” he said. “There’s nobody who really wants to help us.”
Sagan, who has been embroiled recently in a drama with his team owner Oleg Tinkov, has had very little to say to the press. The Tinkoff sprinter was visibly frustrated after narrowly missing the stage 2 win.
When asked how he felt, Sagan replied, "second,” before adding that he believes he can still win a stage in the race, maybe two. Sagan then quickly rolled away to the podium ceremony and eventually the team RV.
The young Slovakian has been put in a tough position by Tinkov, who wrote in a Cyclingnews blog last week that he’s paying Sagan a lot of money but his star rider is not performing.
Now that Cavendish has already notched two stage wins and worn the yellow jersey for two stages, the pressure has only intensified on the Tinkoff-Saxo rider. Cavendish exploited some of that pressure to his advantage, saying after Monday’s stage that he knew Sagan would hit out first in Lodi.
“Going into the last corner Sagan made sure he was ahead of me, but I was happy to be on his wheel,” Cavendish said. “It was a headwind finish. I took a quick glance and I saw a Drapac rider come up. I tried to go around but was a bit closed.
“I didn't give up and I went again,” he continued. “I saw on the left Sagan had the slipstream of the Drapac rider, and into the headwind that was a massive advantage. I knew he'd get the slingshot. So I knew it would be hard against a strong guy like Sagan.”
Cavendish was able to slip past Sagan and take the win by a handful of centimetres, setting up the continued showdown later in the week.