Sprint finishes at the Tour de France are never for the faint of heart, but the fastmen of the peloton appear to have ratcheted up the intensity and chaos to 11 for this year’s race.
Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data), winner of Thursday’s stage 6 dash in Montauban and second on the list of all-time stage winners behind Eddy Merckx, made it quite clear the level of risk sprinting in the 2016 Tour de France entails.
"Oh my God, that was terrifying," Cavendish exclaimed in a television interview immediately following his 29th career win at the Tour. “That was like the old days just wheel surfing."
After finishing second to Cavendish once again, Marcel Kittel (Etixx-QuickStep) lamented the hectic and chaotic finishes in this year’s race and declared that traditional lead-outs were ineffective.
"To be very honest, in the finals this year it's impossible to ride with a team lead-out," Kittel said. "I don't know what the organizers are doing. We go downhill into the city with all the small roads and corners. It goes wide, narrow and wide again. Every team is struggling to just stay in the front. And the GC teams are also holding the wheels until the finish line."
With no team capable of controlling the front of the peloton, Thursday’s finish favoured riders who could freelance their way to the line. While Cavendish sat in Kittel's draft until he made his final, devastating kick for the line, McLay, who excels in one-day races that usually favour less-orchestrated sprints, parlayed the chaos into a podium spot on the sport's most high-profile stage.
But you can be forgiven for wondering who Dan McLay is and where he came from.
A closer look at the 24-year-old British rider with roots in New Zealand reveals McLay cut his teeth in Belgium with four seasons on Lotto Soudal’s feeder program. He moved to the Pro Continental level last year with the French Bretagne-Séché Environnement team, then jumped to Fortuneo-Vital Concept for 2016.
So far this season he's won the 1.HC-rated GP de Denain in April and the Grand Prix de la Somme in May ahead of French sprint star Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis), paving his ride this month to his first Grand Tour.
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Mclay was born in his father's home country of New Zealand before moving to Leicester when he was one year old, according to his bio page on the Fortuneo-Vital Concept website. McClay was swept up in British Cycling's development program, and as a junior in 2010 he won a world championship in the Madison with Simon Yates. He's also represented Great Britain at the cyclo-cross world championships.
In 2014 he won stages at Tour de Normandie, Paris-Arras Tours and Tour de l'Avenir, then set his sights on the pro peloton in 2015 with Bretagne-Séché Environnement. A contract with Fortuneo-Vital Concept followed, setting him on the road to the bunch sprint today in Montauban.
Pat Malach: It's always cool to see a new name rise among the high-speed world of Grand Tour sprinters. Although one podium finish in the Tour doesn’t establish a rider’s bonafides, it will definitely provide a lift in confidence and motivation. The fact that Mclay pulled off this feat in his first Grand Tour, one that even Tour veterans like Cavendish say has become unbelievably hectic and frightening, is a testament to his potential. It will be interesting to see how Mclay handles the Pyrenees and if he’ll get another chance at a stage win on the other side.
Growing up in Missoula, Montana, Pat competed in his first bike race in 1985 at Flathead Lake before studying English and journalism at the University of Oregon. He has covered North American cycling extensively since 2009, as well as racing and teams in Europe and South America. Pat currently lives in the US outside of Portland, Oregon.
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