Cavendish at the double in carbon copy sprint wins

Having struggled with illness and a general lack of form and timing during the first week of the Vuelta a España, Mark Cavendish bounced back with a vengeance as the race offered up two consecutive opportunities for the sprinters to shine before hitting the high mountains again for what is likely to be the decisive stretch for the overall contenders.

If the identity of the winner of stages 12 and 13 came as little surprise, the manner of them underlined both the incredible power and acceleration of the fastest sprinter in the world, and also the value of a carefully timed team effort. HTC-Columbia were not the most prominent team at the front of the peloton on either day, but Matt Goss produced a pair of exemplary and virtually identical lead-outs to launch the Manx Missile to two easy victories. When Cavendish and his team fire on all cylinders, they are simply the best in the business – and by a considerable margin.

Stage 12: Andorra la Vella > Lleida

Cavendish claimed one of the easiest wins of his career in Lleida after a brilliantly judged lead-out from teammate Matt Goss, becoming only the second British rider to win a stage at all three Grand Tours.

Another day, another view as the peloton speeds through scenic Catalonia (image courtesy of Graham Watson)

On a day which presented the sprinters with their first opportunity for a week, there was never any realistic chance of an escape staying away to the end. Nonetheless, an early break of nine riders, including Cavendish’s teammate Lars Bak and three men from Xacobeo Galicia, escaped early in the day but were never allowed more than three minutes up the road as the Euskaltel-Euskadi team of red jersey Igor Antón, Garmin-Transitions and Quick Step kept a watchful eye on proceedings. Meanwhile HTC-Columbia, with a man in the escape, were able to take more of a back seat than they are normally able to do on a flat stage.

The peloton regrouped at 23 km, with Garmin and Lampre prominent in maintaining the tempo at the front of the bunch as they set up the final sprint. Lleida was featuring as a finishing town for only the second time in the Vuelta’s history – on that occasion, in 1989, the victory also went to a British rider, Teka‘s Malcolm Elliott, and Cavendish was not to be denied a repeat performance here.

Mark Cavendish celebrates winning stage 12 (image courtesy of Graham Watson)

In a hesitant and scrappy final kilometre where it appeared that none of the other teams wanted to seize the initiative Goss, with Cavendish on his wheel, forced his way to the front to lead the pack around a difficult 90-degree right turn with just over 200 metres left. Accelerating out of the corner, the pair found themselves four bike lengths clear of the field, and after a moment’s hesitation the Manxman surged clear of the closing pack to win by three lengths.

It was a victory every bit as dominant as his memorable 2009 win on the Champs-Élysées, and had Goss not thrust both arms aloft well before the line to celebrate his team leader’s win, he would have comfortably claimed second ahead of Tyler Farrar. Instead the American squeezed ahead on the line by a tyre’s width, keeping him within touching distance in the points competition.

Cavendish’s first individual Vuelta stage win was his 21st in a Grand Tour (he has won 15 stages at the Tour de France and five at the Giro d’Italia, in addition to team time trials at both the Giro and Vuelta) and his 60th overall. Among British riders, only Robert Millar can match his achievement of stage wins in all three Grand Tours.

As ever, Cavendish was quick to acknowledge the contribution of the team to his win:

That [win] was because of my lead-out man. Gossy did an incredible job. It was so chaotic in the final and I thought we were too far back with 600 metres to go. Then Gossy gave me a lead-out and I saw the gap I had, I actually wanted to give him the win but he pulled over.

It’s really special to win stages in all three major Tours, but there are always eight teammates who get me into a position where I can win. Lars Bak got in the break today, so we didn’t have to work so hard. I wanted Matt [Goss] to get the win today because he made such a huge effort to get me into the right position. It didn’t work out that way, but even so I’m really proud of what he did today. When I do succeed, it’s on behalf of the team. We have a young squad here, and we’re learning day-by-day and getting tighter and tighter in the finishes. It’s going well.

Victory also moved him back to the top of the points standings, nine points ahead of Farrar, but his priority remains stage wins rather than the green jersey:

I would like to try and win it outright, but my main objective is stage wins. Hopefully I’ll get some more and the points jersey will work out as well.

All the GC contenders finished safely in the pack, so Antón maintained his 45-second advantage over Vincenzo Nibali.

The stage had started without Roy Sentjens of Milram, after it was announced he had tested positive for EPO in an out-of-competition test last month.

Stage 12 result:

1. Mark Cavendish (HTC-Columbia) 4:00:30

2. Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Transitions) same time

3. Matthew Goss (HTC-Columbia) s/t

4. Denis Galimzyanov (Katusha) s/t

5. Thor Hushovd (Cervelo) s/t

Stage 13: Rincón de Soto > Burgos

Another sprinters’ day; another finish with a tight right-hander deep inside the final kilometre; another Goss-Cavendish one-two punch which left their rivals chasing wheels in vain. HTC-Columbia’s team leader notched up a second straight comfortable win, which this time he embellished with a bunny hop as he crossed the finish line. That’s how easy it was.

Another day, another win, another chance to spray champagne (image courtesy of Graham Watson)

With the day’s five-man break – which at one stage had held an advantage of over seven minutes – reeled in with just under four kilometres remaining, it was a relatively straightforward run in to the finish at Burgos, with the only problem being a wide hairpin bend with 500 metres to go. Garmin-Transitions had put in a lot of effort leading the earlier chase, and they found themselves unable to maintain control over the front of the peloton. Quick Step swept past them, only to be overtaken in turn by Katusha as the pack passed under the one kilometre banner. It was only then, as the final corner approached, that the yellow and white jersey of Goss made a decisive charge up the right-hand side of the road, with the green jersey of Cavendish tucked in behind him. The pair were third and fourth into the final corner; first and second out of it as several others over-braked.

With Thor Hushovd on Cavendish’s wheel, Goss put his head down and produced a monster turn on the front, sustaining a pace so high that no one could even consider an early attack until he pulled over and left his leader to see out the last 200 metres. Cav put the hammer down and, despite the big Norwegian pedalling flat out in his tow, immediately increased his lead by a further bike length which he sustained without difficulty, affording him the luxury of his bunny hop celebration as he – literally – flew over the line. Hushovd was second ahead of Liquigas‘s Daniele Bennati, while Garmin’s Tyler Farrar lost out in the shuffle to come in sixth. As a result, Cavendish extended his lead over Farrar in the points competition to 21, although that may change with the climbers once again coming to the fore over the next three days, with Igor Antón maintaining his 45-second lead over Vincenzo Nibali.

Cavendish revealed the value of the team having done its homework on the final run-in:

I was scared we were too far back at two kilometres to go but once again the team did its homework and we knew the last corner was wide. So while other riders were braking, we were able to dive-bomb the corner. Goss took the inside and we just bombed through. He was so fast coming out of the turn I had a hard time holding his wheel. I usually go with 250 metres to go but I waited until 175 to go because he’s just so fast and so strong. I really hope he can get a stage win, too.

He was also again quick to praise the effort of his entire team, who helped put him in the right place at the right time despite losing Hayden Roulston earlier in the stage:

I know I keep saying it but I’ve got an incredible team. You could really see it today. Other teams took it up and we let them because we lost Hayden Roulston, who is a big engine, so we had to surf on the edge of the peloton. Yet Peter Velits and Tejay van Garderen were up there for us, even though they’re our GC guys. The team is always the key, as I say, it’s always better to have a star team than a team of stars. All the guys are committed to the cause. They’re all passionate about the sport and its history. They’re not just interested in money. I’m so proud to be part of this team.

Tomorrow sees the first of three consecutive beyond-category summit finishes, the vicious six kilometre ascent of Peña Cabarga. Cavendish will be more than happy to finish at the back of the pack tomorrow; the next chance for him to show us a new celebration will not be until next Thursday’s stage to Salamanca.

Stage 13 result:

1. Mark Cavendish (HTC-Columbia) 4:50:18

2. Thor Hushovd (Cervelo) same time

3. Daniele Bennati (Liquigas) s/t

4. Yauheni Hutarovich (FDJ) s/t

5. Manuel Cardoso (Footon-Servetto) s/t

General classification:

1. Igor Antón (Euskaltel-Euskadi) 56:28:03

2. Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas) +0:45

3. Xavier Tondó (Cervelo) +1:04

4. Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) +1:17

5. Ezequiel Mosquera (Xacobeo Galicia) +1:29

6. Marzio Bruseghin (Caisse d’Epargne) +1:57

7. Rubén Plaza (Caisse d’Epargne) +2:07

8. Rigoberto Urán (Caisse d’Epargne) +2:13

9. Nicolas Roche (AG2R-La Mondiale) +2:30

10. Fränk Schleck (Saxo Bank) +2:30

Points classification:

1. Mark Cavendish (HTC-Columbia) 111 pts

2. Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Transitions) 90

3. Igor Antón (Euskaltel-Euskadi) 75

4. Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto) 67

5. Thor Hushovd (Cervelo) 57

Mountains classification:

1. David Moncoutié (Cofidis) 41 pts

2. Serafín Martínez (Xacobeo Galicia) 36

3. Gonzalo Rabuñal (Xacobeo Galicia) 25

4. Igor Antón (Euskaltel-Euskadi) 15

5. Xavier Tondó (Cervelo) 11

For up-to-the-minute news, results and analysis of the race, visit either the official Vuelta website or the always excellent

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