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Analysis: Omega Pharma not perfect, but good enough at the Tour

Mark Cavendish won two stages and his teammates took two others at the 100th edition of the race

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PARIS (VN) — It’s too soon to know if the Omega move was the right one for Mark Cavendish. He won two stages at the Tour, and that’s nothing to scoff at, but this is a rider who once won six in a single lap around France and five on two other occasions.

Omega Pharma-Quick Step was dedicated to its star at this year’s Tour de France but wasn’t perfect, though it showed a marked improvement from this spring when team boss Patrick Lefevere said he hadn’t seen “men with balls” in the Omega Pharma leadout.

There appeared to be hiccups in the leadout train, with point man Gert Steegmans accelerating too sharply on a few occasions, gapping Cavendish off the wheel he needed most. In other stages, Cav was flat-out beaten by the likes of Marcel Kittel (Argos-Shimano) and others. His leadout was swallowed whole before the final turn into the Champs Elysees sprint — a sprint he lost, and a sprint he had owned for the previous four years.

No, it wasn’t the Tour de France that Omega Pharma had expected. The Belgian team added sprint savant Cavendish in the offseason, and came to the 100th Tour with a team dedicated to the Manx Missile. Looking at the parcours, it seemed Cav could win four stages without too much trouble.

He won two, and found a new rival in German strongman Kittel; two of Kittel’s four stage wins came head-to-head against the world’s best sprinter himself.

But the Cavendish story isn’t all Omega Pharma authored. All told, it was one of the most successful teams at the Tour, winning four stages with three different winners. Sky’s Chris Froome, the overall race winner, won three.

Omega-Pharma’s Tony Martin won a time trial, which wasn’t exactly a surprise given the fact that he’s the two-time defending world time trial champion, but it came upon the force of grit and resolve: he had crashed terribly in Corsica, suffering a concussion, and lay on the pavement when he finished his clock-beating ride to Mont-Saint-Michel. He later said he’d have been disappointed if he didn’t win.

What’s more, Omega Pharma collected a bonus on the legs of Matteo Trentin when the young Italian won stage 14 out of an opportunistic break that included Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing) and Andrew Talansky (Garmin-Sharp).

Fortunes rise and fall throughout the season, and Omega Pharma is a perfect example: The team salvaged a rough spring in which it lost Tom Boonen in a crash at the Ronde van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders) by winning four stages at the Tour and almost a fifth in the team time trial. And yet, there was a tinge of disappointment, or so it seemed at least, that Cavendish didn’t win more.

“Everything’s good. Everybody’s always expecting us to come and win all the flat stages. And it’s not going to happen. It’s just not going to happen,” sport director Brian Holm told VeloNews. “[Peter] Sagan, Kittel, some of the world’s best sprinters? We’re going to lose on and off. As long as [Cavendish] leaves with two stage wins, like he did … was something very specific for us.

“We did it in the crosswind, stage 13. That stage … was a crazy stage, and it was one of our best wins, ever. And then Tony recovered for the time trial. Cav winning another stage. Then Matteo Trentin — fantastic, you know? He really got the guys sitting, waiting, waiting, waiting. And he was just sitting … You’ve got one bullet left in your six shooter, and you can use it in the sprint.”

Holm highlighted the win in the blustery stage 13, in which Omega Pharma drilled the pace early and Saxo-Tinkoff later launched a move and pulled away, with Cavendish hopping a ride and easily taking the sprint victory over Sagan (Cannondale). When asked what he was thinking during the pace-making, Omega Pharma’s Niki Terpstra summed it up pretty easily.

“Ah. I just wanted to drop them,” he told VeloNews with a smile. “And when it worked out, I was thinking, ‘another one bites the dust.’ Every time we were going, more went.”

As noted, the success came in sharp relief to the hard-luck, cold spring that was such a departure from the year before, in which Boonen won Flanders and Paris-Roubaix.

“We had bad luck in the classics with Tom, but we had a lot of bad luck here, also. We were close, every single stage. We were fighting for the win … most of the stages, we were in for the win,” Holm said. “Every team does. Every team can write a little book about the Tour de France.”

Omega Pharma’s book is mostly a happy tale, one authored in the July madness. “It really feels good. Normally the Tour de France is not my favorite race, but now that it’s going so well on the team, that makes it a lot more fun,” Terpstra said.

Holm went a bit further.

“It’s so special because it’s a f—ing madhouse from morning to the evening,” he said. “You really get speeded up everyday, going to the start in the morning, finding the hotel at night, ‘is everything all right,’ guests at the table. It is a madhouse, you know? It’s like three weeks, big rock festival, for sports people.”

Omega Pharma struck a tune that was successful but unexpected. But what will the encore sound like next time around?