Cavendish gracious in defeat as momentum appears to waver
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Thursday, July 11, 2013

Cavendish gracious in defeat as momentum appears to waver

by Shane Stokes at 5:30 PM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Tour de France
 
Says Kittel is the next superstar in sprinting, but will Briton bounce back?

Mark CavendishWhen Mark Cavendish hit the front with approximately 200 metres to go today, there were several reasons to believe that he was going to win his second stage of this year’s Tour.

There was the fact that he had only taken one thus far in the race; the fact that he was beaten two days ago, and embroiled in controversy about the crash involving Tom Veelers; the fact that the organisers of the post-Tour Boxmeer criterium said today that he was uninvited due to that incident; and, not least, the fact that a fan threw urine at him in yesterday’s time trial, hitting him in the face.

In the past an angry Cavendish has been a victorious one, but things didn’t go to plan today.

The Manxman appeared to be in the right place at the right time, putting his head down when Gert Steegmans peeled off close to the line, and hitting the jets. Finish line in sight, he looked poised to blast home best.

However, in contrast to similar situations in the past when Cavendish would often pull well clear of his opponents, Marcel Kittel remained firmly tucked in his slipstream, holding pace for several seconds before moving to his left, ramping up the watts and then blasting by just before the line.

Cavendish glanced over once, twice; the expression on his face was one of pure surprise. It’s very rare that he’s beaten in a sprint like that, particularly in the Tour de France. However Kittel did precisely that.

To his credit, Cavendish was gracious – and very complimentary – in defeat.

“You can sit there and analyse it, but when there is someone simply faster than you there is nothing you can do,” Cavendish said after the stage. “I don't think me, or the team, could have done anything differently. He was just simply better today.

“I tweeted the other day I think he's the next big thing. I spoke with him today actually. I think he's the next superstar in sprinting and he showed it today. He's won three stages now and that's not easy. I can tell you that from experience.”

Cavendish has been riding the Tour de France since 2007 and while that first participation didn’t result in a stage win, he’s been a regular on the podium since then.

In 2008 he clocked up four victories, then twelve months later he clocked up a staggering six. Five followed in both 2010 and 2011, then three last year.

Add in his win on stage five of this year’s race and he has notched up 24 individual stage victories. It’s the fourth highest Tour total of all time, with Eddy Merckx ten in front of him, Bernard Hinault four ahead, and André Leducq with just one win more.

Cavendish wants the all time record and, prior to today, few would bet against him achieving it in the years to come. However Kittel’s success on a flat, fast stage and Peter Sagan’s edge on lumpier finishes show that things are not as straightforward as the statistics suggest. Andre Greipel too appears to be more competitive than he did before, complicating things.

Essentially, the gap has closed between him and his rivals. Right now at least, Cavendish seldom wins by two, three - or even more - bike lengths, as he has done in the past.

The astounding finishing sprint which saw him bear down on Heinrich Haussler like a missile to win the 2009 Milan-Sanremo seems like a distant memory. Indeed, several of his wins this year have been by the margin of a couple of feet, not more than that.

Is Cavendish slowing with age? He’s now 28 and said several times this season that he didn’t feel as explosive as before, putting that down to weight loss. In the past, other very rapid young sprinters such as Sean Kelly and Johan Museeuw lost pace as they neared their thirties, although the drop in their pure speed was replaced by a better endurance and versatility.

The passing years could be a factor, but there are other reasons too to take into consideration. Cavendish had bronchitis before the race and started the Tour on antibiotics. He may also be tired from a tough Giro which, to his credit, he remained in right until the end, taking five stages plus the points jersey.

His new Omega Pharma Quick Step has also fumbled at times this year, leaving him out of position when the sprints have begun. This too has complicated things on a couple of Tour stages.

They have got it right on other occasions, though, and today appeared to be a textbook setup for a Cavendish win.

He made it clear afterwards that he didn’t believe their work, position and pacing was the issue. “My team did incredible today. We analysed the finish beforehand,” he said. “In the last days I think we've been a little to eager, you know, which is kind of a good thing because it means you've got the commitment from everybody. But ultimately we always ran out of guys.

“Today we talked about staying calm and staying patient and going at the last moment. The guys were a lot more comfortable and it made my job a lot easier. I'm just really disappointed I couldn't finish it off for them.”

Cavendish is often stung by defeat and having been bettered today, he’ll be more determined than ever to bounce back tomorrow. The stage to Saint-Amand-Montrond is another flat, fast one, and a bunch sprint is expected.

He’ll be obsessed by trying to get things just right and if he ends up in another head-to-head with Kittel, he’ll dig deeper to prove a point.

If Cavendish wins, he’ll be back on schedule as regards notching up multiple victories in a Tour. Should Kittel prevail again, though, or if Sagan or Greipel hit the line first, it will be another knock to Cavendish’s morale.

It’s just one gallop, but in ways it is much more than that. Friday’s sprint could be an indication if the Manx missile is indeed wavering, or if the laser targeting remains on track.

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