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Tour de France

Andrew Hood’s Tour de France Notebook, stage 8

WHAT MAKES CAV SO FAST? It looks like Mark Cavendish was born to win. Despite losing the wheel of his lead-out man Gerard Ciolek after riding cautiously through the final bend with just over one kilometer to go to avoid crashing on wet roads, Great Britain’s “Cannonball” was still able to blast across the line with apparent ease to win for the second time in a week. At 23, Cavendish is using his raw finishing speed and tenacious personality to make up for any lack of experience he might have in what is his third grand tour start.

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By Andrew Hood

It's all about the muscles, baby.

It’s all about the muscles, baby.

Photo: Graham Watson

WHAT MAKES CAV SO FAST?
It looks like Mark Cavendish was born to win.

Despite losing the wheel of his lead-out man Gerard Ciolek after riding cautiously through the final bend with just over one kilometer to go to avoid crashing on wet roads, Great Britain’s “Cannonball” was still able to blast across the line with apparent ease to win for the second time in a week.

At 23, Cavendish is using his raw finishing speed and tenacious personality to make up for any lack of experience he might have in what is his third grand tour start.

Cavendish, who hails from the Isle of Man but now lives and trains near Florence during the racing season, was effusive in thanking his team for his victories.

Earlier this season, VeloNews asked about the source of his lethal acceleration. Cavendish said it was a blend of genetics and his track racing experience that’s giving him the most lethal finishing sprint anyone’s seen in a generation.

“It’s a little bit natural. I was born with the right muscle types. I have very short, so I am able to spin the pedals fast. I ride on 170mm cranks, so I can punch quickly at the end. Naturally, I just have the physical attributes of being a sprinter,” he explained. “It also comes from my track background. When you’re pedaling small gears on small cranks, you learn to use the pedals to get maximum speed and efficiency. This plays a critical part on how to react in the bunch.”

Cavendish proved his ability to win a big sprint stage during this year’s Giro d’Italia, where he won two of six contested sprints.

So far during this Tour, he’s won two of the three sprints so far contested.

“With my speed and acceleration in the last 100 meters, when I can go from 50 to 70kph, for pure acceleration, I am the fastest now,” he said. “For strength, you can see how Bennati and Zabel get over the hills. I’m not the strongest sprinter, but I am fastest in the end. With the help of my team and a little bit of luck, I am able to win sometimes.”

Cavendish will now try to get over the Pyrénées and Alps and make it to Paris to duke it out for the final sprint on the Champs-Élysées. Contrary to rumors that he will abandon the Tour to prepare for the Summer Olympic Games in Beijing, he says he plans to stay in the race.

“I’m going to try. That’s my intention. I will take it day by day and take it as it comes. I did the same in the Giro and I made it all the way to Milan,” he said. “It’s not fair to my team, my sponsors, my teammates or the Tour if I pull out. If I don’t make it, that means that I am not physically able to do that. As of now, I’m going to try 110 percent.”

GREEN JERSEY BATTLE HEATS UP
The battle for the points jersey is looking to be hotly contested this year as no single sprinter is dominating the contest.

As the Tour nears the halfway point, the green jersey battle remains wide open.

Three-time world champion Oscar Freire officially claimed the maillot vert Saturday despite being tied with race leader Kim Kirchen on points with 119 each. Freire claims green based on placement in Saturday’s stage, in which he was fourth.

Thor Hushovd (Credit Agricole), winner of the green jersey in 2005, slots into third with 105 while the eternal Erik Zabel (Milram), a six-time winner of the green jersey, remains in contention with 92 points.

“I haven’t been able to win a stage yet, but I’ve been able to pick up points here and there. We’ll see how I can get over the mountains, but I’d love to be able to carry the green jersey to Paris,” said Freire. “I had some problems before this Tour, but I’ve become stronger after a week of racing. My main objective is to win at least one stage, but this year there are not so many opportunities.”

Two-time stage winner Mark Cavendish exploded to another victory Saturday, but he’s not chasing the mid-stage hot sprints and sits quietly in sixth with 86 points. The Brit youngster admits that he might not be ready to battle for every hot sprint in every stage.

“The green jersey was never an objective for me when I came to the Tour. I came with the objective of winning a stage, especially in the first week. I don’t know if I am physically capable of winning the green jersey,” said Cavendish. “You have to be consistent and you have to make it over the mountains. I just don’t know if I am consistent enough for it just yet.”

Kirchen remains in contention for both the green and yellow jerseys. Going into Saturday’s stage, he was leading both classifications.

Despite carrying the maillot jaune into the Pyrénées this weekend, Kirchen admitted that he’s not forgetting about the green jersey.

“Right now, I am going to concentrate on defending the yellow jersey in the mountains, but the maillot vert is still very, very important for me,” Kirchen said. “I believe I can still pick up some points in the mountains. If I had to chose, I’ll take yellow.”

Maybe he won’t have to. No rider has won the green and yellow jersey in the same Tour since Bernard Hinault last did it in 1979.

ADDICTIVE BEHAIVOR?
The doping positive of Manuel Beltrán was the hot topic in the start village. Most were saying unsavory things about the veteran Spanish climber to soiling cycling at a critical moment as the sport fights to regain its credibility.

Stapleton says that dopers are "behaving irrationally."

Stapleton says that dopers are “behaving irrationally.”

Photo: Casey B. Gibson

While the second, B-sample has still not been tested, many were wondering why riders would tempt fate when the noose against doping is perhaps as tight as it’s ever been in the history of sport.

Bob Stapleton, general manager of Team Columbia, wondered if it was more than just looking for a competitive edge.

“Anyone who does this type of conduct is behaving irrationally. There’s a lot of testing going on; there are new rules. When you do a lot of testing, guys are going to get caught My view personally is that this is almost an addictive behavior,” Stapleton said. “That’s how I view people who continue with this behavior in this type of environment.”

He might be right. Cycling’s troubled past is littered with riders who became addicted not only to the psychological and physiological need to dope to perform at a higher level, but also on drugs that helped them sleep, recover, train and relax.

The infamous pot belge – which was a high-octane combination of amphetamines, cocaine, heroin and barbiturates – became a popular concoction among riders looking for a thrill after the race was over.

Marco Pantani was one of cycling’s worst victims of the addictive cycle, dying of an apparent overdose of cocaine in 2004.

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