Get access to everything we publish when you sign up for Outside+.
TIGNES, France (VN) — Mark Cavendish (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) celebrated making the time-cut Sunday high in the French Alps as if he was winning a sprint finish on a flat stage.
The veteran sprinter survived Sunday’s harrowing climb to stay in the Tour de France on a day when sprinters Arnaud Démare (Groupama-FDJ) and Bryan Coquard (B&B Hotels) were among seven riders who did not make the time-cut.
Nic Dlamini (Qhubeka-Nexthash), who made history as the first Black rider from South Africa to start the Tour, also missed the time-cut.
For Cavendish, crossing the finish line safely within the time limit was as sweet as victory.
“This was one stage I was terrified of,” Cavendish told journalists. “I’m emotional I got over it. I’m delighted I’m still on the race.”
Already a winner of two stages, Cavendish was fearing this weekend’s climbs in the French Alps in what’s been his unlikely return to the Tour.
Also read: ‘I’ve given my life to the Tour de France’
The last time he raced the Tour in 2018, he was time-cut on a nearby climb. Since then, he has not raced a major climb in a European stage race.
After making the time-cut Saturday, all eyes were on Cavendish on the much more challenging stage that included the Tour’s first hors-categorie summit.
Cavendish was paced up the grinding final climb to the cold and wet summit at Tignes by teammates Michael Mørkøv and Tim Declercq, and hugged them in joy after he made it under the finish line banner safely within the time-cut limit.
“I’m so humbled and physically broken,” an emotional Cavendish said. “In the last couple of years, watching the race on TV, I was a bit jealous that Deceuninck-Quick-Step always [took] care of their sprinter while in my last Tour, I was left to my own devices. Today I could count on Tim and Michael to support me.”
— Deceuninck-QuickStep (@deceuninck_qst) July 4, 2021
While Cavendish celebrated, seven others were out of the race for being hors délai, or outside the time limit.
Jacopo Guarnieri, Stefan De Bod, Loic Vliegen, Anthony Delaplace all joined Démare, Coquard and Dlamini for finishing beyond the allotted time limit.
Every Tour stage features an allotted that everyone must finish within range of the winner, or risk behind eliminated. Sometimes if a big group is beyond the time limit, the race commissaires will make an exception, and allow riders to stay in the race.
Cavendish didn’t want to take the risk this weekend, and suffered through the mountains to stay in the game.
With Tim Merlier (Alpecin-Fenix), a winner in stage 3, abandoning, and Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) not starting, Cavendish’s Tour de France just keeps getting better.
With Caleb Ewan (Lotto-Soudal) out after a crash in stage 3, there are not that many pure sprinters left in the bunch.
Also read: ‘Don’t ask me about the Merckx record’
Right now, Cavendish is only two Tour stage victories short of tying the record of 34 stage wins set by Eddy Merckx.
There could be up to four more sprints in this Tour, but there’s no guarantee of a bunch sprint until Paris.
Before celebrating history, however, Cavendish knows he has to get over both the double-ascent of Mont Ventoux on Wednesday, and the Pyrénées in the final week.
“The worst part is there are many days like this still to come,” Cavendish said. “As much as I missed the Tour de France, I didn’t miss these mountain stages.”