At the dawn of this second week of the Tour, he points to 152e place out of 165, in the general classification. But what does it matter to Mark Cavendish. He is still there, the British sprinter, and that is the main point. He spent the Alps, those two icy and interminable days which almost, last weekend, froze his adventure. He arrived in Tignes just on time on Sunday, a minute and a half before the limit, accompanied by two of his teammates from the Deceuninck-Quick Step. Crossed the line, the trio fell into their arms, and the image of this solidarity pride was beautiful.
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“I was terrified by this stage, I am very moved to have finished it, I savor the fact of still being in the race”, then commented an exhausted Mark Cavendish. If he felt the wind of the ball, others took him in the wheels. The Belgian Tim Merlier, winner of the third stage, had to retire. The two French sprinters Arnaud Démare and Bryan Coquard, out of time, are not at the start either this Tuesday July 6 in Albertville.
The road clears for the sprinter
The road is therefore clear for the holder of the green jersey of the points classification, who sees his direct competitors disappear one after the other, even if there are still some – Michael Matthews, Sonny Colbrelli, Peter Sagan or the French Nacer Bouhanni – to promise a fight in the home stretch. But Mark Cavendish can hope for a lot, in Valence today, in Nîmes and Carcassonne on July 8 and 9. The analogy is tempting for the Isle of Man runner between his youthful exploits and his unlikely return to 36.
By winning his second stage since the start, the 1er Last July in Châteauroux, how not to see him again, 13 years earlier, to raise his arms in the same city to inaugurate a career at full speed? It was 2008 and the Cavendish machine was launched. Before dropping the deal on the fifteenth day to go prepare for the Beijing Olympics, he was going to afford four stages. And in particular the 12e and the 13e, in Narbonne and Nîmes. Here then. A third hour of glory is looming for Mark Cavendish.
Dark night and unexpected return to grace
The first time had gone off with a bang, six years of racing sprints for no less exciting results. On the Tour, six stages won in 2009, five in 2011 (plus a world champion title), and in 2012 a fourth consecutive victory on the Champs-Élysées. Overwhelming domination. But the pendulum will come back.
The second fastest time for Mark Cavendish began in 2014. With his new team, ancestor of his current formation, he fell on the first stage of the Tour at home in England, which he dreamed of winning. Loose collarbone, he must give up, sees his entire season upset, and it is a blow to his training built around his talent. 2015 was hardly better, he left it to bounce back elsewhere, in the South African Dimension Data team. 2016 is not so bad, with four victories on the Tour, including the first stage allowing him to put on the yellow tunic for the first time. But 2017 is a nightmare, and night is falling for the runner with cascading falls, recurring health problems, a premature end of the Tour in 2018 (out of time), then depression and even more morale. “Devastated” when he is not selected for the Big Loop 2019. He drags his misfortune all year 2020 disrupted by the Covid. End of course?
Third beat of the waltz
It was unexpected, but his former manager Patrick Lefévère is reaching out to him on the eve of the 2021 season. “I said to myself that it was good to give him another chance”, comments soberly the boss of Deceuninck-Quick Step. It is not then a question of remaking a Tour and replacing the house sprinter, the Irishman Sam Bennett. Except that. The latter, leaving for another team next year, shows a dotted motivation, and Patrick Lefévère therefore calls Mark Cavendish at the last moment to replace him.
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We know the rest. The third beat of the Cavendish waltz which turns the peloton to everyone’s surprise. Under the appearance of a mechanical roller which made his reputation for a long time, the Briton is very sensitive, appreciating to put himself at the service of a collective if he feels he is ready to surround him. This is what he lives and savor in his team, where Julian Alaphilippe is not the last to pedal for him in the sprints. With 32 stages of the Tour on the clock, he is only two lengths behind the staggering record of a certain Eddy Merckx. And Patrick Lefévère to imagine in the Belgian daily Het Nieuwsblad a legendary “happy end”: “What if he soon won in a dream scenario on the Champs-Élysées with the green jersey? For his 35e victory in the Tour de France? “ Yes why not.
165 runners in the second week
They were only 165, out of the 184 at the start of the Great Loop, the valiant of the peloton to have crossed the Alps to take advantage of the first day of rest, this Monday, July 5 in Tignes. Sunday was particularly severe, with three withdrawals and six late arrivals, including Nicholas Dlamini (Qhubeka), the first black South African to be lined up for the Tour de France. The 25-year-old rider reached the finish 1 hour 24 after the winner, well outside the limits set, 37 minutes and 20 seconds for this uncompromising stage.