PARIS, France (VN) — Before the 2012 Tour de France even started, Mark Cavendish said the Champs-Élysées was his favorite place to sprint, the ground he cherished most as a sprinter. A leaned down world champion, owner of 22 Tour stages, also said that he was planning on making it there.
It’s hard to pick against him Sunday.
“For me, it’s the most beautiful boulevard in the world,” Cavendish said on Friday. “It’s an iconic avenue, and it’s a place that’s well known, not just in cycling. If you ask any person in the world to name a famous finish in cycling, they’re most likely going to say the Champs-Élysées.”
There was speculation Cavendish (Sky) wouldn’t finish this race, that he’d try to pop a few stages and then go home to Great Britain and prep for the Olympic road race. Cavendish, though, had other plans. Before the start in Liège, Belgium, he said he wanted to do his world champion stripes justice and ride all the way to Paris in support of Bradley Wiggins’ yellow jersey campaign.
“The Tour de France is the biggest bike race on the planet. It’s what I’ve always lived for. It’s what I dreamed about as a kid,” he said on the eve of the race’s final weekend. “I’ve got this jersey on my back. I want to do this jersey proud.”
Cavendish has stayed in this Tour. He’s stuffed his rainbow-striped jersey with bottles. He even pulled Wiggins, Sky and the entire peloton up a climb in the final week. He took a backseat to the pursuit of the yellow jersey, but never let it show if he was unhappy doing it.
He’s won two stages on his craftiness alone. Gone was the prototypical Cavendish leadout, as the team dedicated itself to Wiggins. He’s had Bernhard Eisel by his side and at times Edvald Boasson Hagen, but whatever Cavendish has gotten in this Tour — two wins thus far — he’s had to take largely himself, and he’s shuttled bottles along the way.
That will change on Sunday when Sky almost certainly takes to the front of the race, Wiggins and all, to lead the “Manx Missile” into the final lap of the Paris circuit. Garmin has tried, more than any other team, to disrupt Cavendish’s train heading out of the tunnel at the Louvre and into the Rue de Rivoli. It hasn’t worked yet.
Cavendish is tied with Andre Darrigade as the winningest Tour sprinter ever and has won three years in a row in the Tour’s finale before the Place de la Concorde. Sunday will be the first time he’s ridden into Paris in the same uniform as the race’s overall winner.
“We came here with a realistic opportunity to win the Tour de France. That can’t be an opportunity you can pass by. I was always going to be excited to be part of that opportunity, part of that journey,” Cavendish said. “Three weeks in, I’m incredibly proud to be a part of that.”
It’s tough to pick against Cavendish on Sunday. It’s a stage he thinks about constantly. If he wins today, it marks number 23 in the Tour, moving him ahead of Darrigade and Lance Armstrong into sole possession of fourth on the all-time list. Only André Leducq (25), Bernard Hinault (28) and Eddy Merckx (34) have more.
“It’s a place I dreamed of as a kid,” Cavendish said. “All the great sprinters won there. And I wanted to make it one day. It signifies two things. First of all, it’s the Holy Grail for a sprinter. It means you’ve finished the Tour de France, you’ve reached Paris. And secondly, it’s a very difficult sprint to win. It’s almost as important as the world championships for a sprinter. It’s a beautiful thing to do. I can’t wait for it.”
Neither can we.
Reporter Matthew Beaudin files his Notes From the Scrum from time to time, offering up the insights of a Tour de France rookie.