ZÉLANDE, Netherlands (VN) — Mark Cavendish’s Tour de France began in a bad way in 2014 when he crashed in the sprint of stage 1 in his mother’s hometown of Harrogate and abandoned. This 2015 Tour began better, but not by much.
The normally quick Cav, winner of 13 races so far this year, could not close stage 2 on top, and by fading back to fourth, threw away teammate Tony Martin’s chance to put on the yellow jersey.
Etixx-Quick-Step’s general manager, Patrick Lefevere, was not happy. He told VeloNews, “Everything that could go wrong, did.”
Etixx helped destroy the peloton Sunday as the Tour de France raced along the west coast of the Netherlands. In the cross-winds and rain, they pulled clear a 26-man escape.
Overall favorites Chris Froome (Sky), Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo), and Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing) were there. Cavendish counted five helpers and a couple of rivals, André Greipel (Lotto-Soudal) and Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo).
The team put all of its effort behind delivering Cavendish to a sprint win. If he got it, he would have helped gobble up the bonus seconds on offer and put Martin in the yellow jersey. Tony Martin sat second overall behind Rohan Dennis (BMC Racing) after finishing five seconds back on Saturday.
But “everything, everything” went wrong, Lefevere said.
Cav’s leadout man, Mark Renshaw went too early. The Manx sprinter barreled toward the line, but Greipel and Sagan shot past in the last meters. Meanwhile, Cav, winner of 25 sprint stages, could not hold onto third. He appeared to ease off, perhaps sensing he had lost, but in any case Cancellara snuck by at the line and pushed him into fourth.
“I was surprised in the end, our press officer said, ‘You got it,’” Cancellara said. “I wanted to see it on the screen to believe it.”
With the four-second bonus for third, Cancellara got the yellow jersey. Etixx, Cavendish, and Martin — who sits second overall at three seconds — came away with nothing.
“I think we were the most aggressive team, we promised to make echelons today, we did it,” Lefevere said. “But now we are here with empty hands.”
Martin, nearly in tears, told the press: “We had big numbers in the group, but we didn’t win the stage or take the jersey. The disappointment is great.”
It was unclear where the Etixx team failed. Renshaw left Cavendish early. Cav said he wanted to go with under 200 meters to race. Then Cavendish fumbled. Losing the stage might have been excusable, but slipping to fourth did not sit well with the team’s boss.
Still, Lefevere said: “I don’t blame anyone. If we could redo it, we’d win every race.”
Cavendish rode from the finish line to the team bus 200 meters behind the line in silence and without journalists or fans running alongside. Thirty minutes later, he stepped off the bus and tried to explain what went wrong.
“It was a head-wind finish. Mark went too early and kind of left me hanging. We died,” he said.
“I knew it was a gamble having to go [early], but I just went. I am disappointed obviously.
“The fact that Cancellara has beaten me, it’s not that I’ve had a bad sprint. You can see I’ve gone too long. The day Cancellara beats me in a sprint, I’ve gone too long. I’ve gassed it. It’s disappointing, Tony’s disappointed.”
The disappointment could linger some time in the team. World champion Michal Kwiatkowski has a chance to win for Etixx on Monday, but Cavendish’s next chance might not come until Wednesday, when stage 5 ends in Amiens.