Aussie sprinters not fast enough
Cavendish vs Goss - Cav holds the upper hand in the Green jersey stakes - if he wants it Image: Graeme Watson
After four stages of the Tour de France, it’s clear that Australia’s fastmen are nowhere near the same league as the peloton’s finest.
World champion Mark Cavendish and German powerhouse Andre Greipel both have a win apiece, while ebullient Slovak tyro Peter Sagan has proved he can not only win (twice) but also dance across the line while doing so.
Matt Goss and Mark Renshaw have been a mere footnote to the proceedings; extras to make up the numbers.
Monday’s first bona fide bunch sprint in Tournai witnessed a reunion of former HTC sprinters – and it became quite clear why Cavendish and, to a lesser extent, Greipel were top dogs at the now-defunct HTC team, and just why Messrs Goss and Renshaw were their minions.
Greipel, thanks to his lavish Lotto Belisol train, was granted the kind of lead-out we used to see so often with Cavendish – but it was the Briton who was the most cunning. Despite being isolated, Cavendish surged past the German to open up his Tour account for Team Sky.
Goss was comfortably beaten into third place – while Renshaw wasn’t even invited to the reunion, trickling over the line in ninth place after being boxed in earlier in the sprint.
For Goss, it’s very much like the Andy Murray situation in tennis. Scotland’s Murray performs at a consistently high level throughout the year but his main obstacle is the fact that he was born in the same generation as the likes of Roger Federer, Rafa Nadal and Novak Djokovic.
Murray is undeniably the world’s fourth-best tennis player – but that is not enough to win a Grand Slam unless you have a lot of luck, or the three above you suffer an unexpected blow.
Goss’s only win in May’s Giro d’Italia came in stage three after his main opponent Cavendish suffered an unexpected blow in the form of that infamous swerve by the Italian Roberto Ferrari.
Cue Wednesday’s stage four to Rouen. It was billed as a big showdown between Cavendish and Greipel – round two of their bunch sprint battle following the Sagan’s impressive uphill offerings. But an isolated Cavendish came down hard alongside his solitary lead-out man Bernhard Eisel inside the closing three kilometres – instantly changing the dynamic.
It was as if Cav had suffered a huge upset in the semi-finals of Roland Garros, allowing his former understudy Goss the chance to play Greipel in the final. This was Goss’s chance to seize the moment – much like he had done two months previously in Italy.
But Goss couldn’t rise to the occasion, the 25-year-old Tasmanian finishing fourth as Greipel cantered to a relatively straight-forward win.
Ahead of Goss in second place came an Italian veteran without a win on the Tour since 2010 (Lampre’s Alessandro Petacchi) and a Dutch unknown who has only been elevated to his team’s main sprinter following a stomach bug sustained by another (Argos-Shimano’s Tom Veelers).
If you’re wondering about Renshaw – he hit the deck hard in the same crash that did for Cavendish and a whole cluster of other riders on the outskirts of Rouen.
Here raises the interesting point. When quizzed about Cavendish’s apparent isolation in the closing kilometres, Team Sky directeur sportif Sean Yates agreed that, perhaps, had the world champion had a full lead-out train at his service, he would have avoided the spill.
It’s a tough one to call. Bunch sprints – and especially bunch sprints early on in the Tour – are always nervous and there are always going to be pile-ups.
With Lotto Belisol offering the race’s only well-oiled train, there are so many individual riders jostling for places and trying to use each other’s power and positioning in the immediate built up to a stage climax.
It cannot be denied that Cavendish could well have done with the likes Goss and Renshaw to deliver him to the line. And at the moment, it seems like both Australians would be better suited in performing such a role rather than trying to get in on the act themselves.
Of course, it’s early days. We’re still in the opening week of the Tour – and Thursday’s flat stage five to Saint-Quentin could well see the tide turn in favour of the Australians. It is also, lest we forget, Goss’s first ever Tour de France – and Renshaw’s first Tour as his team’s main sprinter.
Back during the Tour Down Under in January, Greipel was picking up wins aplenty with exactly the same lead-out train that he can rely on now in France. It’s tried-and-tested – unlike the situation at Orica GreenEdge, which represents very much a learning curve.
There’s no denying that the GreenEDGE riders have presence. For the most part they are all there for Goss both at the intermediate sprints and at the finish. Their problem is in the final execution – something which is essential when your Plan A is not as fast, mano-a-mano, as the Plan As of at least three other teams.
As Orica-GreenEDGE directeur sportif Matt White said after Goss’s fourth place in Rouen: “To win stages of the Tour we need to execute our plan 100 percent. The only way to win stages is to take the guesswork out of the final. It’s extremely difficult to win against the best guys in the world without a well-executed plan.”
Goss’s consistency has still seen him rise to second place in the green jersey standings behind the indefatigable Sagan – and that’s both a solid return and a promising situation going forward.
But to get a win he will need much more. Because at the moment, he won’t come anywhere near the top of the podium while the likes of Greipel, Cavendish and even Petacchi are around.
Regarding Renshaw – let’s be honest, his best bet would be winning a sprint from a breakaway.
Felix Lowe is an English photographer, writer and Arsenal fan with a penchant for pro-cycling. Eurosport writer and blogger, Felix has covered the major cycling races in the pro calendar for the past decade and is now taking up the sport himself, at the ripe age of 31.
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