Mark Cavendish celebrates in a familiar pose after winning again at Chateauroux
One of the collateral damage victims of Bradley Wiggins’ exit yesterday was a brilliantly executed 17th Tour stage win for Mark Cavendish, on the same finishing straight where he had taken his first-ever victory in the Tour back in 2008.
Then as now, Cavendish was guided to the finish by a cohort of team-mates who left the Briton perfectly positioned as the gantries soared into view – perhaps the only difference, in fact, being that the line he was aiming for was 100 metres closer than three years ago.
The Briton then roared into action, all but ignoring arch-rival Andrei Greipel as the German fastman made a desperate late burst on his right.
However, it was a given that if Cavendish had anything to do with it, his former team-mate would never be allowed to make it.
And the look of sheer joy that spread across Cavendish’s face as he crossed the line – not to mention deliberately making the same gesture as when he took the victory in 2008 – confirmed that, for the Briton, yesterday’s win was in some ways a sort of homecoming, or the end of a cycle that had started in Chateauroux three years ago.
“This is a really special victory for me,” Cavendish confirmed. “Winning on the same finish as three years ago is a very emotional moment.
“The Tour’s always been the biggest race for me, and to get the win again really matters for me.
“It’s been a love affair ever since between me and the Tour and I’m sure it’s going to continue.
“I can remember what happened that day perfectly. [Frenchman] Nicolas Vogondy had broken away and I used his slipstream to get past him and go for it.”
Cavendish’s Tour victories are so prolific – four stages in 2008, six in 2009, five in 2010 and two in 2011 – that he is now half way to the total of 34 taken by cycling’s greatest rider of them all, Eddy Merckx, over seven years.
Just seven riders have taken more than the Briton in the history of the Tour and, in modern-day racing, only a certain Lance Armstrong – with 22 – still lies ahead of the HTC-Highroad rider.
“I’m not interested in any particular target,” Cavendish said. “All I wanted is to keep on winning.
“Today I barely had to do anything to win, I got such a perfect lead-out.
“I knew Greipel was coming after me, but I study my rivals’ sprints closely and I knew if he got that fast so close to me, he would die pretty soon.”
Cavendish will have to wait for a fair while, in any case, until he can try for his third sprint stage in 2011.
The Tour now rolls into the Massif Centrale mountain range, with an uphill finish at Super Besse ski station today set to test the favourites.
Cavendish’s next big chance should come in Montpellier, in nine days, although stage 10 to Carmaux might just end in a bunch sprint, too. If it does, no prizes for guessing who the favourite will be.
By Alasdair Fotheringham