SAINTE CÉCILE LES VIGNES, France (VN) – Four days in the mountains and a Belgian classics rider lie in the way of Mark Cavendish and his green jersey dreams. As the Tour de France heads for its final week in the Alps, Cavendish (HTC-Highroad) is closer now than ever to taking the maillot vert home, but he’ll have to outdo two rivals and 12 categorized climbs to stand on the podium in Paris in green.
In his fifth Tour, Cavendish left the race’s penultimate sprint stage with a solid 37-point advantage over Jose Joaquin Rojas (Movistar) and 71 points over Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto). He also left Montpellier having won a remarkable four road stages at four Tours in a row, the first rider ever to do so. Normally he would be a virtual lock for the green jersey, assuming he makes it to Paris, but a new points system has the maillot vert in doubt all the way to the Champs Elysées.
When asked repeatedly about the green jersey classification in Sunday’s post-race press conference, Cavendish wouldn’t dismiss his rivals.
“Nothing’s guaranteed here,” he said. “The battle’s not over until we cross the line on the Champs Elysées and so we’ll keep poking away. I know Gilbert is quite far back, but he desperately wants this jersey and he’s an incredibly talented bike rider. He’ll find a way to get points back on me.”
The Walloon winner of all three Ardennes classics this spring has five opportunities to make up ground in the closing week — the intermediate sprint and finish in Tuesday’s hilly stage to Gap, the slightly uphill intermediate sprint and stage 17 finish in Pinerolo, Italy, and the stage-19 intermediate sprint between the Galibier and L’Alpe d’Huez.
Gilbert is a favorite for Tuesday’s stage, which finishes with a sharp 11km descent from the Cat. 2 Col de Manse to the city center. Cavendish’s set-up man Mark Renshaw called the Belgian their top rival for the jersey. If he wins in Gap and Cavendish scores no points, Gilbert will pull to within 26 points of the jersey.
Top 10 points standings after Sunday’s stage
- 1. Mark Cavendish, HTC – Highroad, with 319 points
- 2. Jose Joaquin Rojas, Movistar Team, with 282 points
- 3. Philippe Gilbert, Omega Pharma – Lotto, with 248 points
- 4. Thor Hushovd, Team Garmin – Cervelo, with 192 points
- 5. André Greipel, Omega Pharma – Lotto, with 170 points
- 6. Cadel Evans, BMC Racing Team, with 159 points
- 7. Tyler Farrar, Team Garmin-Cervelo, with 141 points
- 8. Mickaël Delage, Fdj, with 122 points
- 9. Edvald Boasson Hagen, Sky Procycling, with 105 points
- 10. Alessandro Petacchi, Lampre-Isd, with 96 points
“We’ll try to stop Gilbert getting points everywhere,” said Renshaw. “I think he’s our biggest rival. Rojas keeps sliding back in points. I’m quite confident that Mark will keep the jersey now, but you never say never in the Tour de France.”
HTC’s Matt Goss will try in Gap to counter Gilbert, who has made use of the Tour’s new points system that rewards the top 15 riders at one intermediate sprint and the finish of nearly every stage. Stage winners earn 45 points, while the intermediate is worth 20.
“We need as many points as possible because Gilbert’s climbing with some of the best guys,” said Goss on Sunday. “I’ll have a bit of a crack at that. It’ll be a bit of a tough stage. It depends on how it works out; if there’s a big breakaway maybe I have to try and be in the breakaway. If it’s a group that can come back together I’ll give it all I’ve got to get over there. It’s another opportunity for a stage win and I’ve got to make the most of them.”
Cavendish will also have opportunities for points in the final week with the intermediate sprint en route to Pinerolo, an early sprint at 46.5km during stage 18 to Galibier-Serre-Chevalier and the two point lines on the Champs Elysées on Sunday.
Usually focused on stage finishes, Cavendish has shown his interest — and aptitude — for the jersey by contesting the intermediate sprints whenever possible. He beat Rojas and Gilbert from the field in Sunday’s midway prime.
Sitting quietly in second, Rojas has hung tight in the classification behind two of the sport’s biggest stars. At just 37 points down, his consistency and ability to challenge for the podium in Paris should keep him tightly locked into the competition. If Cavendish falters in the mountains, Rojas is positioned well to inherit the jersey he wore in the Tour’s first week, if he can hold off Gilbert. The scores of Spanish fans wearing green Movistar replicas at the start of each Pyrénéan stage would approve.
Perhaps a stiffer challenge for Cavendish than his rivals, though, will be making it through the Alps to the final sprint before the Arc de Triomph. He crashed out of the groupetto on a descent midway through Saturday’s stage to Plateau de Beille and with the help of teammates Bernhard Eisel, Danny Pate and Lars Bak, made it to the summit finish a little over a minute ahead of the time cut.
“We know it’s going to be hard for Mark to get over the Alps. It will be hard for all the sprinters. We have Bernard, who is quite good at helping Mark on the climbing stages,” HTC director Ralf Aldag told VeloNews. “We know there will not be a sprint finish again until Paris, so the focus now is on getting Mark through the Alps. We hope to win one more stage and finally win the green jersey. We will be very satisfied with that.”
Rojas created a moderate uproar Sunday when he accused Cavendish of holding onto a car en route to Plateau de Beille. Garmin-Cervélo’s Tyler Farrar, second on the stage, made a veiled comment after Sunday’s finish about Cavendish’s “remarkable” 70km comeback to the groupetto, but said Monday he regretted the statement.
Cavendish has finished the Tour twice, in 2009 and 2010, winning on the Champs Elysées both times, but has not won the green jersey he covets. He abandoned in the Alps in his first Tour (2007) after crashing in the first week of the race, and stepped away early in 2008 to focus on the Beijing Olympics.
When asked how much his teammate values taking the maillot vert home on Sunday, Goss said, “It must mean something; he’s had green on his socks for a year or two … Winning the amount of stages he has done in the Tours prior here, to not come away with a green jersey for that, he’s got to be hungry.”
Hungry Cavendish is. Pulling at his green tunic, he said Sunday that he would love to “stand on the podium in Paris with this (jersey) on our shoulders.”
The Tour heads to the mountains Tuesday, but with ample opportunities for each of the points rivals, the finale in the center of Paris could decide the maillot vert competition by just a handful of points.