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MONTPELLIER, France (AFP) — For Mark Cavendish, there can be nothing worse than losing a Tour de France stage in a sprint finish, especially when the man who beats him to it is one of his greatest rivals.
Cavendish (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) was fourth in the sprint for the line at the end of the 176-kilometer sixth stage from Aix-en-Provence to Montpellier on Thursday as André Greipel (Lotto-Belisol) claimed the victory.
Cavendish and Greipel have been rivals since their days riding together at High Road, with conflict developing when the young Manxman refused to play second fiddle to a rider three years older than him.
Cavendish hates to lose, and his anger was all too evident on Thursday as a crash 34km from the finish left him playing catch-up with the peloton, seriously hampering his chances of a second consecutive stage win.
When he got back to the Omega Pharma team bus at the end of the stage, Cavendish was livid and, as a scrum of journalists gathered outside, the Manxman’s screaming could clearly be heard.
“I don’t want to use this fucking bike! What the fuck is wrong this bike!” he said, furious at seeing his chance of a second consecutive stage win pass him by. Cavendish started the stage on a limited edition Specialized Venge.
It was around half an hour later before he emerged to face the media, although the official race medical report stated that he was being tended to by the team doctor for minor injuries suffered during his fall.
“I was going around a roundabout and it was very tight,” Cavendish said calmly. “My front wheel went, but I didn’t necessarily lose the sprint because of that.
Cavendish said the chase was a factor in missing victory, but said Greipel was at his best on Thursday.
“I’m disappointed, but I won the sprint yesterday and the morale is still good,” he said. “We rode strong all day in difficult conditions, so it’s ok, and we’ve got another two weeks left.”
In front of the television cameras, he also refused to blame problems with his bike for his bad day at the office, and insisted that his team “don’t really do a song and dance when we don’t win.”
However, Omega Pharma’s Danish director Brian Holm admitted that Cavendish went “ballistic” and said that it was best to avoid the team’s fiery star rider at such moments.
“There were three, four, or five riders who crashed when Cav went down and, if you ask him, it was probably somebody else’s mistake,” he said. “I just heard him yelling inside the bus but I don’t know what about. I think nobody can understand him when he’s yelling. Nobody has a clue what he’s saying.
“We blew it today and Lotto did everything right. Greipel got a good win and I think we just have to say congratulations.”
Nevertheless, Holm was confident that Cavendish would not take long to calm down and he did appear on Twitter later, swallowing his pride to congratulate Greipel for his win.
“When he is like this I stay away for a few hours,” said Holm, who knows Cavendish inside-out, having worked with him since his rookie season at High Road.
“We always end up laughing about it. Straight after a race he’s like a boxer coming out of the ring. You can’t judge somebody on what they say for a couple of hours after a cycling race, especially when they have been beaten like that.
“I think it’s alright to be angry, just for two hours, then we can be a happy family again.
“Come dinner he will be going around the table saying sorry. He’s a good lad, trust me.”
Cavendish certainly cannot afford to be down in the dumps for too long — in the battle for the green jersey he now lies third, 11 points behind Greipel and some 40 adrift of Peter Sagan (Cannondale), the Slovak champion who won the points competition last year.
But Friday’s transitional stage from Montpellier to Albi could offer one more chance for sprint success before the weekend sees the Tour arrive in the Pyrénées.
Correction: A SRAM representative tells VeloNews that Mark Cavendish’s Venge was not equipped with SRAM HydroR brakes on Thursday, as this story originally reported.