SARZEAU, France (AFP) — Mark Cavendish and his fellow sprinters were licking their lips ahead of Tuesday’s Tour de France fourth stage, a coastal run that will likely end in a bunch sprint.
The 195-kilometer stage from La Baule to Sarzeau offers the peloton a stunning coastline backdrop ending in a 4km straight, with the only danger coming from stiff offshore breezes.
“This one is about getting the kilometers out of the way,” said Cavendish, a veteran with 30 Tour stage wins to his name.
Cavendish is just four wins short of the all-time record held by Eddy Merckx.
“I’m here to get closer to that record,” said the 33-year-old. “But I’ll be honest, I’m just excited to still be here at what is not only the biggest event in cycling but one of the biggest events in world sport.”
This year’s race offers Cavendish the chance to emulate 2016, when he won stages 1, 3, 6, and 14.
Last year, Cavendish’s Tour ended early with a crash as he chased another victory in a bunch sprint at the end of the fourth stage.
Race leader Greg Van Avermaet, the 2016 Olympic road race champion, said he plans to stay atop the general classification standings.
“It won’t be easy with the wind and there are many teams chasing the honor of wearing the jersey,” he said. “But we’ll be working hard as a team again to protect the yellow jersey.”
Thought to be the purest sprint specialist in the sport, Cavendish has had to watch Marcel Kittel and Peter Sagan steal the early limelight in the 2018 Tour. Sagan took the yellow jersey on Sunday and was gutted to have to give it up Monday in the team time trial, in which he backed off at 25km and rolled in three minutes off the pace of his teammates.
“I’m here for stage wins too and the next couple of days there are wins and points to be won,” Sagan said.
“Tuesday’s stage might be tricky, you have to watch out for winds and the narrow roads and not get trapped behind a fall,” he said, perhaps thinking of Sunday’s scenario when the sprint was marked by a multiple-rider pileup.
Sagan is the man in green Tuesday as he leads the sprint points race and is hoping to cash in with a maximum 70 points to be won: 20 at the intermediate sprint and 50 at the finish line.
Sagan leads the classification with 104 points, ahead of Fernando Gaviria (78), Alexander Kristoff (53), and Arnaud Demare (41).
Though the sprinters are expected to dominate the day, spectators are also set to revel in the road show on the glittering Brittany coastline bathed in sunshine.
“The Tour has always been a good advert for France and this is one of the stages that will look good on the television,” Tour director Christian Prudhomme said at the official unveiling of the route last October.
All this makes the stage highly watchable for a bit of armchair tourism, a relaxing day for the front-runners and a tense one for the sprint teams with fierce competition due to the meager pickings they have been offered so far this year.