Gallery: Mark Cavendish’s Tour de France Specialized S-Works Tarmac SL7

Manx Missile fires trigger shifter for his 31st Tour de France stage win.

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.