LONDON, England (VN) — Mark Cavendish is long gone now, blown away in the jet wash of the Tour de France’s early madness, but the rest of his Omega Pharma-Quick Step team is still here, and it’s one with absolute class, too.
So, what now?
It’s simple. Find results, however possible. Even without Cavendish, the Belgian squad has an embarrassment of riches.
“I think we are a top team. We have 42 victories with 13 different riders. We tried to select the nine best riders possible to get here in the Tour,” Omega manager Patrick Lefevere told VeloNews.
Omega’s lineup here is stout and strong, a muscled team built to deliver Cavendish to the closing meters untouched. Now that the sprinter is gone, thanks to a separated shoulder suffered in a stage 1 crash, the riders will need to look for results in another way and on another’s shoulders.
All along, the team had hopes for its fledgling general classification rider, Michal Kwiatkowski, who finished 11th last year at his first Tour. There is a stage with 15 kilometers of cobbles on Wednesday in northern France and into Belgium, which the classic-influenced team can also look to with Niki Terpstra, who won Paris-Roubaix on some of the same roads earlier this season. Tony Martin, a multiple-time (and the current) world time trial champion, will target the Tour’s penultimate day, a long, arduous time trial.
Matteo Trentin surprised and won a stage last year, via a sprint out of a small group, and Mark Renshaw, a dyed-in-the-wool leadout man, still owns a nice turn of speed. Jan Bakelants, back with Omega after a two-year stint with RadioShack-Trek, wore the yellow jersey last year after a stage win in Corsica. It’s a team capable of winning even without a man in Cavendish, who’s won 25 stages at the Tour.
“We asked them to keep their ambitions for themselves and to work for Mark Cavendish and Michal Kwiatkowski. And I think today they can get their ambitions back, and show us why they’re on the team,” Lefevere said.
Kwiatkowski is coming off a sterling spring classics campaign in which he finished third in both La Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège. It’s reasonable to think he could better his finish from last season, but by how much?
“Nobody remembers who was eight or seventh last year at the Tour de France — you know what I mean. Michal was 11th,” Lefevere said. “First of all, I think he’s here to learn more about himself, how to behave himself, during three weeks to try to get a good result.”
As of Monday afternoon, Kwiatkowski rode among a herd of other GC riders, just 2 seconds off the yellow jersey of Vincenzo Nibali (Astana).
UPDATE: Omega Pharma issued a statement on Monday confirming that Cavendish would require surgery for his injury, and would be off the bike for six weeks.
“Cavendish underwent further examinations after his crash during the first stage of the Tour de France last Saturday. The results underlined the need for surgery after it was confirmed that all ligaments around the AC-joint were ruptured and the shoulder separated. The surgery to stabilize the AC joint will take place on Wednesday 9th of July. The recovery time after the surgery will be around six weeks.”
Cavendish had initially hoped he’d only suffered bruising and swelling but it turned out to be worse than he imagined.
“It’s worse than I was hoping but immediately after the crash I knew something was really wrong,” Cavendish said. “It is really painful, but at the moment all I can do is focus 100 percent of my effort on my recovery to be able to get back racing for Omega Pharma-Quick-Step as quickly as possible.”
Cavendish had been one of the big favorites for victory on the opening stage of the Tour, which finished in his mother’s home town Harrogate. The 2011 world champion has won 25 Tour stages since 2008.