Mark Cavendish first won a stage of the Tour de France in 2008, on a 10-speed mechanical Shimano Dura-Ace group with rim brakes. Fast forward to today, and he won his 31st Tour stage on an 11-speed electronic Dura-Ace group with disc brakes — and a single sprint shifter facing forward on his right handlebar drop.
Cavendish initially didn’t like electronic shifting, preferring the feel of mechanical shifting, but the creation of sprint shifters changed his mind, and he has used them in racing since 2011.
The beauty of the design lets sprinters shift while keeping all their fingers tightly wrapped around the handlebar, instead of reaching out to manipulate a lever or a button on the brake lever.
Shimano’s sprint shifters move the derailleur in one direction. Typically a rider will have a righthand sprint shifter move the chain onto a smaller cog, and the left shifter move it onto an easier cog. The shifters can be positioned anywhere on the bar, and most riders set them on the inside of each drop.
Cavendish, since at least 2017, has been positioning his sprint shifters facing forward on the drops, for activation with his fingers instead of his thumbs.
His primary and back-up bikes for the 2021 Tour de France have just a single sprint shifter on the righthand side. Presumably this is for shifting into a harder gear as the sprint winds up; shifting into an easier gear isn’t as relevant.
Cavendish took a bike change on stage 4 at about 32 miles to go after his carbon saddle rails broke, leaving him nowhere to sit. NBC commentators pontificated that the position of his back-up bike was off, as the saddle was slammed forward on the rails. But you can see in the photos below how that forward position is indeed how he rides.
In an event, Cavendish’s bike going forward will have something no other rider in the Tour de France has — the numeral 31 on his number plate, for his stage-win total at the world’s greatest bike race.
Mark Cavendish has been a proponent of Shimano Dura-Ace Di2 electronic shifting since the creation of the satellite sprint shifter. But I don’t see one on the left side of his bars.
On the right side, the sprint shift clearly protrudes from the bar tape just under the hood. Cavendish has preferred a forward-facing position to the sprint shifter, compared to many riders’ setup of an inner-facing shifter.
Oh, snap. The carbon rails of Cavendish’s saddle broke on stage 4, requiring a bike change at about 32 miles to go. Note the small “30” on his number plate.
Cavendish took flight out of the bunch, with all fingers wrapped tightly around the handlebars.
After a bike change, Cavendish went on to handily win the next intermediate sprint — a sign of things to come later in the day.
While many superbikes have gone to an integrated bar/stem, the Tarmac features a separate bar and stem that are quite aero but still offer adjustability.
The Specialized S-Works Tarmac SL7 of Mark Cavendish. And yes, that’s how he rides his saddle.
The Tarmac’s stem routes brake hoses and shift lines underneath, not internally.
The Specialized S-Works Power with Mirror uses 3D-printed polymer instead of foam for padding. So why did his rails break? It’s unclear. Perhaps getting caught up in a crash on stage 3 damaged the rails.
Another major change in gear from the machines he first won on at the Tour de France — Cavendish is racing on clinchers instead of tubulars, along with the rest of his Deceuninck-Quick-Step team.
Specialized Cotton tires are fast. In fact, they tested the fastest out of 34 tires we sent to Wheel Energy for rolling resistance testing. They aren’t the most durable, but they do feel great.
Cavendish uses a Shimano power meter, and his mechanics keep his chain tidy. Instead of gluing or sticking a magnet on the frame for the power meter, the team uses a K-Edge Pro Power Magnet Chain Catcher, which does double duty.