Tour de France stage 15: HTC-Highroad express train delivers 4×4 Cavendish to victory

Stage 15: Limoux to Montpellier, 192.5km

Mark Cavendish may have been the man to take the podium as the winner of today’s 15th stage to Montpellier but, as the Manxman is so often the first to point out, he was just the final member of a sterling nine-man team effort. HTC-Highroad put their stamp all over this transition stage from start to finish, controlling the chase, the intermediate sprint and the finish to increase their man’s stranglehold on the green jersey. In claiming his fourth win of this Tour Cavendish became the first sprinter (and only the second rider after Eddy Merckx) to win at least four stages at four consecutive Tours de France. Quite simply, this is the most dominant sprinter in the most polished team the sport of cycling has ever seen.

Mark Cavendish extends his lead in the green jersey race with his fourth stage win in Montpellier (image courtesy of Graham Watson)

Chase, control, conquer

Five riders quickly formed the day’s breakaway. Perennial escapee Mickaël Delage (FDJ) was joined by Niki Terpstra (Quick Step), Samuel Dumoulin (Cofidis), Anthony Delaplace (Saur-Sojasun) and Mikhail Ignatiev (Katusha). However, they were always kept on a short leash by the HTC-Highroad-led peloton, with their advantage never exceeding 4:15.

At the intermediate sprint just 46km from the end Delage pipped Dumoulin to take maximum points. The peloton arrived a minute and a half later, and HTC provided the perfect lead-out for Cavendish to beat José Joaquín Rojas and Philippe Gilbert for sixth place without ever having to give maximum effort.

HTC controlled the gap to the leaders before finally pulling them back in the closing kilometres. Maintaining pole position at the head of the peloton, they managed the chase calmly in spite of the disruptive effect of a succession of roundabouts and a late attempt by Gilbert, who joined Terpstra, the last survivor of the break, in one final attempt to elude a bunch sprint. Nonetheless, the catch was completed just inside the 2km banner, and HTC duly delivered Cavendish into the perfect position to finish the job ahead of Tyler Farrar and Alessandro Petacchi.

It was the Manxman’s fourth win – he remains the only multiple individual stage winner – and the 19th of his Tour de France career, all of which have come in the last four years. He is now joint-seventh on the all-time winners’ list with only one sprinter ahead of him – André Darrigade, whose 22 wins spanned 12 years – and has more stage wins than all English riders have achieved combined.

As ever, Cavendish was quick to talk up the contribution of his team:

It was up and down, there were crosswinds the whole day. It was a difficult stage but it was a sprint and the guys controlled it. They delivered me perfectly to the last 200 metres.

I don’t think there’s been one of my 19 wins that I’ve done alone, and that just shows the commitment those guys have towards me and I’m incredibly lucky for that. I crossed the finish line first but it’s not just me. I did 200 metres today in a 200 km stage. The team rode and delivered me to the line. I’m incredibly proud to be associated with them.

Despite extending his lead in the green jersey competition – Rojas now trails by 37 points, Gilbert by 71 – he was still taking nothing for granted:

I don’t know if I’ve secured the green jersey just yet. If you look at the results from two years ago, it seemed like I had it but Thor [Hushovd] got it back and you can’t guarantee anything. We’ll keep trying and get as many points in the bank as possible and see what happens on the Champs-Elysées.

On a quiet day for the rest of the peloton, there were no significant changes in the general classification, meaning Thomas Voeckler has spent the entire second week in the yellow jersey, and will take a lead of 1:49 into tomorrow’s final rest day.

The team’s the thing

It’s easy to dismiss Cavendish as being merely the beneficiary of arguably the finest lead-out train ever seen, but you have to marvel at the consistency with which he finishes off races when put into a good position. It is extremely rare to see him beaten head-to-head like this – André Greipel‘s victory in Carmaux on stage 11 was one of those instances which set tongues wagging simply because it was such a surprise, even though the German is arguably the best sprinter in the world other than Cavendish. But while Greipel has speed to burn, he lacks Cavendish’s consistency, as does the American Tyler Farrar.

And even when he is deprived of key teammates, as he was last year after Adam Hansen‘s injury and Mark Renshaw‘s disqualification, he has displayed that he is perfectly capable of adapting and either jumping off other riders’ wheels or making use of his own exceptional acceleration to jump over the top of his rivals, as he did at Cap Fréhel last week.

But there is no doubt that Cavendish – like any other sprinter – is at his most effective when his lead-out train works effectively. And in HTC-Highroad, he has the most talented and disciplined bunch of teammates a sprinter could wish for. Each has his assigned role. Danny Pate and Lars Bak do the hard kilometres, putting their noses into the wind at the front of the peloton when chasing down breakaways. Peter Velits and Tejay Van Garderen, both GC riders, do their bit to provide horsepower in the final 10km. Bernhard Eisel, the team’s road captain, and Tony Martin keep the tempo up to the final kilometre to prevent others from wresting control. And then finally Matt Goss will put the hammer down and drag fellow Aussie Mark Renshaw to around 600 metres, with the finest lead-out man in the business piloting Cavendish to 200 metres.

It is a well-oiled machine, and although everyone knows exactly what HTC will do whenever there is a flat finish, disrupting them has proven to be incredibly difficult. To control the peloton in the way HTC so frequently do is no mean feat. The fact they make it look so easy is testament to just how good they are. Cavendish knows that, and it is to his eternal credit that he is so quick to praise a quite exceptional team, who regularly give their all to launch the Manx Missile towards yet another win.

Stage 16 preview

The first stage following the second rest day has ‘breakaway’ written all over it. With the Alps looming the day’s escape will have every chance of succeeding on this mostly uphill stage, and although the sole categorised climb, the Col de Manse, is not the most difficult it is both challenging enough (9.5km, 5.2%) and close enough to the finish for an individual or small group to slip away over the summit and bomb down to the finish in Gap. Last year on a similar stage into Gap (albeit over a different route) Sérgio Paulinho won after the peloton made no attempt to catch the day-long break. This year, expect Philippe Gilbert to ensure he gets in the inevitable break in pursuit of the points he desperately needs to stay in the green jersey race.

Stage 15 result:

1. Mark Cavendish (HTC-Highroad) 4:20:24

2. Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Cervélo) same time

3. Alessandro Petacchi (Lampre-ISD) s/t

4. Daniel Oss (Liquigas-Cannondale) s/t

5. José Joaquín Rojas (Movistar) s/t

General classification:

1. Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) 65:24:34

2. Fränk Schleck (Leopard-Trek) +1:49

3. Cadel Evans (BMC) +2:06

4. Andy Schleck (Leopard-Trek) +2:15

5. Ivan Basso (Liquigas-Cannondale) +3:16

6. Samuel Sánchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) +3:44

7. Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank-Sungard) +4:00

8. Damiano Cunego (Lampre-ISD) +4:01

9. Tom Danielson (Garmin-Cervélo) +5:46

10. Kevin De Weert (Quick Step) +6:18

Points classification:

1. Mark Cavendish (HTC-Highroad) 319 pts

2. José Joaquín Rojas (Movistar) 282

3. Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto) 248

4. Thor Hushovd (Garmin-Cervélo) 192

5. André Greipel (Omega Pharma-Lotto) 170

Mountains classification:

1. Jelle Vanendert (Omega Pharma-Lotto) 74 pts

2. Samuel Sánchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) 72

3. Jérémy Roy (FDJ) 45

4. Andy Schleck (Leopard-Trek) 28

5. Cadel Evans (BMC) 26

Links: Tour de France official

Race analysis

Is the new green jersey points system working?

Week 1 winners & losers

Who will win the polka dot jersey?

Stage recaps

Stage 1: Gilbert climbs to victory as Contador faces uphill battle

Stage 2: Hushovd takes yellow as Evans misses out by one second

Stage 3: Farrar’s green jersey challenge is born on the 4th of July

Stage 4: Evans wins slug-fest but Hushovd clings on to yellow

Stage 5: Cannonball Cav conquers crash carnage

Stage 6: Boasson Hagen wins battle of the strong men

Stage 7: Cavendish wins again as the Sky falls in for Wiggins

Stage 8: Costa’s winning break as Contador continues to look vulnerable

Stage 9: Voeckler leads Tour of attrition as peloton licks its wounds

Stage 10: Greipel the Gorilla gets the monkey off his back

Stage 11: No raining on Cavendish’s parade

Stage 12: Sánchez storms to Bastille Day victory

Stage 13: Thor thunders to victory, leaving Roy tilting at windmills

Stage 14: Vanendert wins as main contenders are happy to man-mark

Tour de France preview

The Tour in numbers

Teams and sponsors (part 1)

Teams and sponsors (part 2)

Official Tour teaser video

Ten riders to watch

Six key stages


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

15 Responses to Tour de France stage 15: HTC-Highroad express train delivers 4×4 Cavendish to victory

  1. Pingback: The Manxman did it again, the 4th stage win this year « Agnostic views & images I like

  2. I did manage to watch this one, Tim. It was a totally predictable stage, but only in that, as you say, we were watching a well-oiled machine execute their game plan with precision. The result was never in doubt.

    Nice that my fellow Aussies Goss and Renshaw are a part of it so I can bask in a little reflected glory.

    • Tim says:

      Goss and Renshaw have both been excellent as ever – and of course Goss also has the win at Milan-San Remo to his name this year. He is seriously fast.

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