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Cavendish the green-eyed monster as points competition tightens up

Stage 6: Montargis > Gueugnon (227.5 km)

Maybe we all wrote off Mark Cavendish‘s chances off winning the green jersey too soon. For while he remains a long way (33 points) off Thor Hushovd‘s lead, by winning his second consecutive stage this afternoon he has halved his deficit in the space of two days. It signals a change of momentum in the points competition every bit as impressive as the one which took him to victory today, fully two bike lengths clear of Tyler Farrar and easing up as he crossed the finishing line with both arms raised in triumph.

Mark Cavendish wins stage 6, his second in a row (image courtesy of Graham Watson)

At 227.5 km, today’s was the longest stage of the 2010 race, and on yet another hot day at the end of a hard, bruising week, there was every chance that a determined breakaway might succeed. Sebastian Lang (Omega Pharma-Lotto), Mathieu Perget (Caisse d’Epargne) and Rubén Pérez Moreno (Euskaltel-Euskadi) got away early, but with HTC-Columbia working overtime – yet again – on the front of the peloton, the gap was always kept under control. Even after Dimitri Champion (AG2R) and Anthony Charteau (Bbox Bouygues Telecom) leapt out of the bunch to reinforce the break late on, the catch was inevitable and was duly completed as the riders passed under the 10 km banner.

On the run-in to the finish, it became clear that Columbia have cleverly rejigged their tactics to cope with the combination of being one man (Adam Hansen) short, and the reluctance of other teams to share the workload in chasing down breakaways – at one stage, it was calculated that Cavendish’s team had done in excess of 80% of the work on the front of the peloton. A shortened lead-out train pulled at the front until the final kilometre, and then it was left to Mark Renshaw, pilot fish extraordinaire, to judge the flow of the race and make the key tactical calls. It is an instinct all good sprinters possess to some degree, but Renshaw has a particularly well-honed knack for finding chinks of daylight to squeeze his bike through, and for judging whose wheel to follow.

With Cavendish tucked faithfully in his wheel the pair, instantly recognisable in their yellow-and-white kit and their green shades, jumped from Alessandro Petacchi‘s train to Tyler Farrar‘s Garmin-Transitions lead-out at just the right moment. And finally, as he has done so many times before, Renshaw dropped Cav off 200 metres from the finish and the rest was a formality. Cavendish kicked, immediately opening up a two-length advantage which he sustained with some ease to record his 12th Tour de France win (and 56th overall), putting him level with Mario Cipollini and Robbie McEwen, two of the greatest sprinters the sport has ever known.

With Hushovd looking off the pace in tenth, his formerly impregnable points lead is now looking decidedly shaky. And while the Norwegian must remain favourite to retain the green jersey he won last year by virtue of his consistent finishing and ability to pick up intermediate sprint points on mountain stages, it is worth questioning whether the collarbone injury he suffered just two months ago will affect him increasingly as the race goes on.

Indeed, many of the leading sprinters at the Tour have some kind of question mark hanging over them. Tyler Farrar has a sprained left elbow, but showed impressive signs of recovery with his second place today. Alessandro Petacchi has a known allergy to going uphill. And Robbie McEwen is riding in pain after crashes earlier in the week, injuries which were not helped by a collision which occurred after today’s finish, as he subsequently explained on Twitter:

Unbelievable. Got taken out at 60kph by a podium chaperone 75m after finish. He literally jumped in front and ran into me. Nothing broken. My back is so sore. Just too ridiculous for words what he did. I hope I can ride tomorrow.

After placing third on the previous two days, Sky‘s Edvald Boasson Hagen could manage no better than eighth today after his final sprint was baulked slightly and he had to throttle back. Nonetheless, the Norwegian youngster continues to impress.

Fabian Cancellara remains in yellow, although his lead over Geraint Thomas was reduced by three seconds (to 20) after the latter finished on the right side of a small split in the peloton. With Cancellara likely to struggle on tomorrow’s climbs, that small amount might just be enough to put Thomas in the maillot jaune, even if only for a day. Sky’s Tour keeps getting better by the day.

As for Cavendish, there were no tearful histrionics on the podium this evening. In fact, it looked very much like business as usual, an ominous sign for his rivals.

Yesterday was really emotional, and today I’m really happy, too. As ever the boys did a great job working hard all the way through the finish and I can’t thank them enough for that. HTC-Columbia is not a team of eight guys and me. I’m just the last rider in a nine-man unit.

I went with Mark Renshaw at the end, following him from one team’s train to another. Finally all I had to do was finish off my team’s good work, giving it everything with 200 metres to go.

Hushovd beware. Mark Cavendish the green-eyed monster may still be a long way behind, but he now has full confidence restored and, as we have seen over the past two days, we know how fast he is when he has the finish line in sight.

Stage 6 result:

1. Mark Cavendish (HTC-Columbia) 5:37:42

2. Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Transitions) same time

3. Alessandro Petacchi (Lampre) s/t

4. Robbie McEwen (Katusha) s/t

5. Gerald Ciolek (Milram) s/t

General classification (yellow jersey):

1. Fabian Cancellara (Saxo Bank) 28:37:30

2. Geraint Thomas (Sky) +0:20

3. Cadel Evans (BMC) +0:39

4. Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Transitions) +0:46

5. Sylvain Chavanel (Quick Step) +1:01

6. Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank) +1:09

7. Thor Hushovd (Cervelo) +1:16

8. Alexandre Vinokourov (Astana) +1:31

9. Alberto Contador (Astana) +1:40

10. Jurgen van den Broeck (Omega Pharma-Lotto) +1:42

Selected others:

13. Denis Menchov (Rabobank) +1:49

14. Bradley Wiggins (Sky) +1:49

18. Lance Armstrong (RadioShack) +2:30

24. Levi Leipheimer (RadioShack) +2:53

47. Ivan Basso (Liquigas-Doimo) +3:20

Points classification (green jersey):

1. Thor Hushovd (Cervelo) 118 pts

2. Alessandro Petacchi (Lampre) 114

3. Robbie McEwen (Katusha) 105

4. José Joaquín Rojas (Caisse d’Epargne) 92

5. Mark Cavendish (HTC-Columbia) 85

Climbers’ classification (polka dot jersey):

1. Jérôme Pineau (Quick Step) 13 pts

2. Mathieu Perget (Caisse d’Epargne) 12

3. Sylvain Chavanel (Quick Step) 8

4. Rin Taaramae (Cofidis) 8

5. Sebastian Lang (Omega Pharma-Lotto) 7

Stage 7 preview:

Start & finish: Tournus > Station des Rousses

Distance & type: 165.5 km, medium mountains

Prediction: Saturday’s stage presents the riders with the first real mountains of this year’s race, although nothing too challenging. Despite the summit finish at Station des Rousses, it is likely the top riders will keep their powder dry for tomorrow, as the climb is a fairly steady one with a fairly flat 5 km final section, so there are no real opportunities to open up significant time gaps. Nonetheless, one or more of the contenders may have trouble finding their climbing legs early on, so expect a couple of the top teams to put men on the front to ride a sensible but not too fast tempo and nullify the threat of any attacks.

From a King of the Mountains perspective, expect Quick Step to put a man in the inevitable break to try to keep the jersey within the team for at least one more day (Jérôme Pineau currently leads the classification). Expect the break to include a number of chancers who have an eye on taking the polka dot jersey with a view to keeping it until the Pyrenees. The stage winner could well come from this group, as the GC boys have bigger fish to fry.

For more reviews and informed comments about the Tour de France, please read any (or all!) of the following excellent blogs:

Marc’s sports blog

Todd Kinsey’s TDF blog

SportPH

Cyclingproject365

Richard Tulloch’s Life on the Road

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About Tim
Father of three. Bit of a geek. That's all, folks.

8 Responses to Cavendish the green-eyed monster as points competition tightens up

  1. I feel deprived in China because I can’t see the daily TVcast by a cable channel. But your daily reports bring at least a clear report about what happened that day, especially for those you favor, which are often the same guys I would follow on TV as much as I could. Thx for your reporting!

    • Tim says:

      Bob/Billy,

      Happy to be of service. I’m finding that following the stages with a critical eye, knowing I have to write it all up, is helping me appreciate the nuances of what is happening every day much more, so I’m benefiting as well.

  2. I was so busy at work today I got no chance to catch up on the race beyond the odd glance at the letour.fr live applet. And then I missed the ITV4 highlights this evening to add insult to injury! So I doubly appreciate your excellent summary of today’s stage. Thank you.

  3. Marc says:

    Just watched the McEwen incident, looked pretty nasty, hope he’s able to start tomorrow. I agree that it might not be all over for Cavendish’s green jersey hopes – the only problem is likely to be the lack of sprint finishes, possibly as few as the two in Bordeaux and Paris depending on breakaways – Gap looks too hilly, Bourg-lès-Valence is definitely a possible if the team is strong enough. There are others but even the ‘flat’ stage to Revel, for example, has a nasty climb in the last 10km. It would be great to see the fastest sprinter win the sprinter’s prize though.

    • Tim says:

      Robbie’s been in the wars a lot this week!

      I agree Cav’s green jersey hopes are slim and with your assessment of the supposedly ‘flat’ stages to come, but I wonder if Hushovd is starting to find the stresses and strains of a Grand Tour are aggravating a collarbone which must still be pretty sore? If Thor keeps finishing outside the top five like he did today, then Cav might just sneak it.

      Farrar coming back into form would complicate things though – Garmin’s sprint train is pretty formidable this year. I loved the way Renshaw picked exactly the right moment to switch from one wheel to the other with Cav sitting patiently behind him showing 100% trust. Renshaw is a class act.

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