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Tour de France

Mark Cavendish: If teams won’t work, why bring a sprinter to the Tour?

if other teams don't want to ride for a sprint, what's the point of bringing a sprinter here?” asks Mark Cavendish. "If I was in a team that didn't want to ride for a sprint, it would be a bit of a knock to my ego. A sprinter is a bit of an egotistical person, you know."

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2011 Tour de France, stage 15, HTC leads
HTC leads the peloton in the chase. Photo: Casey B. Gibson |

MONTPELLIER, France (VN) – After winning his 19th Tour de France stage on Sunday, HTC-Highroad’s Mark Cavendish wondered aloud why other teams would bring sprinters to the Tour without contributing to the chase to ensure a bunch finish.

“The fact that we’re the only team that does ride — if other teams don’t want to ride for a sprint, what’s the point of bringing a sprinter here?” said Cavendish.

“If I was in a team that didn’t want to ride for a sprint, it would be a bit of a knock to my ego. A sprinter is a bit of an egotistical person, you know.”

HTC spent the majority of the day on the front of the peloton, with Lars Bak and Danny Pate dragging the bunch along for 190km. Europcar contributed a few riders to the effort to respect Thomas Voeckler’s maillot jaune, but otherwise the pursuit of five breakaway riders fell almost completely on Bak and Pate.

Matt Goss said afterward that the reluctance of their rivals to chase comes down to the final punch of the HTC train.

“We didn’t get a lot of help from the other teams and I think this is why,” he said, referring to Cavendish’s win. “We can finish it off pretty well.”

Gilbert won’t get away

The final run-in to the finish in the Mediterranean center of Montpellier looked on paper to be fast and straightforward. After two chicanes and a 120-degree corner 4km from the finish, the course straightened as it dove toward the city’s rugby stadium. Cavendish’s top rival for the green points jersey, Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto), tried to take the steam out of the HTC train with an attack 2.5km from the finish.

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Renshaw said there was no way HTC would let the Belgian get away in that situation.

“It was a bold move by Philippe, but it’s very much a Philippe Gilbert move,” said Renshaw. “To be honest, he’s not going to ride away from us, not when we have Tony Martin, Peter Velits, Matt Goss, myself still to go. If it came to the point where I have to go early, I have to go early, and it’s up to Cav’ to win himself, but we’re never going to let Philippe Gilbert ride away.”

Bernhard Eisel and Velits kept the gradual pressure on at the front of the strung-out peloton. Riders dropped off the back one after another as Gilbert’s Belgian champion’s jersey stayed within view of the chase.

Goss said he was certainly concerned with Gilbert, but never imagined he would go to the finish.

“We know if we stay together we can control the bunch,” said Goss. “Gilbert went, and honestly you have to worry, seeing how good he is and how strong he is, so it’s not just as though we didn’t think of it. We certainly had to make sure we got him back, but when it’s just a few guys, I don’t think they’re going to cooperate very much.”

That composure paid and Gilbert was neutralized. Late surges by Garmin-Cervélo for Tyler Farrar and Sky for Ben Swift threatened to disrupt the squad’s rhythm as well, but Goss delivered Cavendish’s final set-up man, Mark Renshaw, to the top of a small ramp 800 meters from the line, From there it was up to the Aussie to hold off Sky and Lampre-ISD, which was hoping to launch Alessandro Petacchi to his first stage win of the Tour.

But when Renshaw dropped Cavendish off 200 meters from the line, he knew the Manxman would take his fourth stage win in this year’s Tour.

“I’ve crossed the finish line first 19 times,” said Cavendish, who is now tied for sixth on the wins list with François Faber. “There’s only one person that can cross the finish line first and I did 200 meters at the end of a 200km stage and two of my teammates rode for 190 of those kilometers and the rest of them took over and delivered me to the line.”

When told it was his 50th win since joining HTC three years ago, Renshaw was surprised.

“I think we’ve lost count,” he said. “Lucky we don’t count. Otherwise I don’t know what would happen.”

Hate losing for the boys

Cavendish is known to show his anger when he misses out in a bunch finish. Most often he refuses to meet the press and uncharacteristically stops only momentarily, if at all, to greet fans. He said his hatred of losing isn’t a burden that comes from himself alone.

“It’s not the fact that I hate losing; I think it’s more the fact of hating to lose when guys have ridden out of their skin for me,” he said. “They don’t want to let each other down and that’s because they commit and they ride themselves out of their skin.”

Cavendish didn’t have to worry about that in Montpellier Sunday.