Cavendish blasts back into the Champs Elysees picture
Mark Cavendish launched himself to victory in Stage 18 of the Tour with such a vicious acceleration it made the rest of the peloton appear as if in slow motion.
Perfect timing to remind everyone that he’s still the fastest, when he gets the opportunity to contest the sprint, before the most prestigious sprint finish of all, on the Champs Elysees.
This one was a thrilling finish, as the spirited breakaway came within seconds of staying away for a surprising victory. The breakaway group had been dangling around a minute ahead of the peloton for the last 30km of the race, but with Andre Greipel’s Lotto Belisol team refusing to chase down their plucky Australian team-mate Adam Hansen, the peloton seemed to misjudge the catch.
Indeed, it took the power of Bradley Wiggins to tow Cavendish back into contention in the last 1500m – it’s not often you see the maillot jaune leading out the world champion this late in the Tour – and Sanchez and Roche were only caught within 50m of the finish line.
But Cavendish’s closing speed, coming from a long way back, was simply phenomenal. He hit Roche and Sanchez – both sprinting at top speed – like a hungry orca hits seals. All Sanchez could do was throw his hand up in a gesture of futility and look around for the rest of the sprinters, who were well off the pace.
It was one of the most outrageously explosive finishes I can remember.
You could almost see Matt Goss’s shoulders slump as he crossed the line in a distant second place – he’s beaten all of the top sprinters at the Tour de France repeatedly, but never all of them on the same day, and now has just one more chance to register Orica-GreenEDGE’s first Tour stage win. You’d have to say his chances just took a nosedive with a resurgent Cavendish back in the picture.
For Cavendish, now equal with André Darrigade and Lance Armstrong in fourth place on the list of most stage wins (22), it was a welcome reward after a Tour where his own ambitions have been secondary to the team’s focus on winning the general classification.
“I haven’t done nothing this Tour so I’ve saved so much energy, because I haven’t even arrived at the sprint. So I knew I’d be able to go long today and nobody would pass me.
“The reason I wasn’t winning sprints was just that I’d been training in the mountains for two weeks, so I was always going to be tired and lose my explosivity. I’ve just not been able to show anything this Tour de France, we’ve been going for the yellow jersey, there’s been no sprints really. I stuck my hand up and said ‘Please, give me a chance’ and the guys were like, ‘OK we’re going to make a sprint today’
“I’m so, so happy. Them lads I’ve been riding with for three weeks have helped me out there, you know?”
With the danger of losing yellow almost certainly over, it’s telling that the team still has the energy and confidence to work for Cavendish in the sprints.
The showdown between Cavendish, Greipel and Goss on Sunday’s final stage should be epic.
Oh yes, and the Olympics are next week.
Tim Renowden has been following professional cycling closely since Indurain won his first Tour. A former A-grade club athlete, and now a keen recreational cyclist and roller racer, he once rode very slowly up Mont Ventoux. Tim tweets about sport at @timehhh_sp.