Mark Cavendish won six stages in last year's Tour de France, but this year didn't start so well between a crash in the first stage, a neutralized sprint the following day, and an utterly uninspired sprint in stage 4. Today, in the Tour's fifth stage, Cavendish got it right, sprinting to victory ahead of Gerald Ciolek of Milram and Edvald Boasson-Hagen of Team Sky.
"The guys did an incredible job, riding themselves into the ground," Cavendish said of his HTC-Columbia teammates. "I had to finish it off. It's a special moment for me."
Mark Cavendish of Britain crosses the finish line to win the fifth stage of the Tour de France.
AP Photo/Laurent Rebours
After so much pressure and several days of disappointment this week, Cavendish and HTC-Columbia were finally able to rectify what teammate Maxime Monfort admitted this morning to being their first real defeat in stage 4.
"They did an incredible job yesterday and I let them down, so they could have given up today," Cavendish said. "But they didn't."
The bunch sprint finish meant once again that no changes were made in the general classification.
"I don't have a date when I say it's over," Fabian Cancellara said of his tenure in the yellow jersey. "I am taking it day by day. Clearly yesterday and today were easier to control but tomorrow is longer and then there are the mountain stages. It would be nice to have the jersey on the rest day but it's not that important."
Same Script, Different Day
The sun continued to bake the riders over 187 kilometers from Epernay, the capital of Champagne production, to Montargis. The peloton was within striking distance of Paris as it sped south, but this Tour de France has a long way to go before reaching the Champs Elys?es.
The expected breakaway of the day included just three men on Thursday, as Spanish national champion Jose-Ivan Gutierrez (Caisse d'Epargne), Julein El Fares (Cofidis), and Jurgen Van de Walle (Quick Step) pressed their luck in a bid to defy a bunch finish. The bunch was clearly in no mood to prevent the escape, settling in for a long day in the sun before the eventual chase. The group gained a maximum advantage of nearly eight minutes, but that gap was reeled in to five minutes just 50km into the course.
Feeling the momentum of two stage wins by Alessandro Petacchi, the Lampre team decided that order needed to be restored. The chase steadily ramped up and as a result the time gaps tumbled.
With 15km to go the gap was still over a minute but the sprinters' teams were breathing down their necks. By 10km, that gap was down to 50 seconds, and despite a late solo bid by Gutierrez, the field was all together and storming into Montargis with 3km remaining.
Garmin-Transitions handled the final leadout before the sprint, but miscommunication saw Tyler Farrar boxed in by his leadout man Julian Dean at the precise moment Cavendish launched to the right of the road. By this point, Cavendish was back in action and unstoppable, crossing the line with his arms high in the air.
Breaking down in tears during a post-race interview, Cavendish was overwhelmed by a release of emotion compounded by expectations and several days of bad luck. Later in the press conference, Cavendish paused for a long time when asked if the "bad boy" moniker was a question of being misunderstood.
"There's a lot of people who want to judge my personality based on the thirty seconds after a bike race," he said, searching for the right words. "To me, if somebody is so ignorant as to dislike me without knowing me, they're not worth worrying about what they think anyway."
"This sport is my life," he said simply.
A New Challenge for Hushovd
In the green jersey competition, Thor Hushovd is suddenly facing a challenge not from Cavendish or Petacchi, but from his fellow Norwegian Edvald Boasson-Hagen. The young talent on Team Sky has finished third in the past two bunch sprints and is a capable enough climber to fight for points on more than the flat stages. Nonetheless, Hushovd hangs on to his green jersey and looks ahead to the coming days.
"Yesterday I suffered and I suffered again today because it was very hot," Hushovd said of today's stage. "I spent a little too much effort struggling against Mark Renshaw to hold Tyler Farrar's wheel, but I had too good a position and I didn't want to give it up."
"But for the green jersey I'm happy," he said, adding that it would be "fun" to find himself in a battle with his compatriot. "I'm looking forward to the mountains... it'll be cooler!"
Hushovd leads the green jersey competition with 102 points, 14 ahead of Petacchi and another 3 ahead of Robbie McEwen. Boasson-Hagen is up to 5th in the standings with 64 points.
J?r?me Pineau continues to hold the polka dot jersey of best climber until the Tour hits the real hills on Saturday and the real fight begins. Geraint Thomas of Team Sky remains in the white jersey of best young rider.
Stage 5 Results
- Mark Cavendish (THR) - 04:30:50
- Gerald Ciolek (MRM) +00:00
- Edvald Boasson Hagen (SKY) +00:00
- Jose Joaquin Rojas (GCE) +00:00
- Thor Hushovd (CTT) +00:00
- Sebastien Turgot (BBO) +00:00
- Fabian Cancellara (Sax) 22:59:45
- Geraint Thomas (SKY) +00:23
- Cadel Evans (BMC) +00:39
- Ryder HesJedal (GRM) +00:46
- Sylvain Chavanel (QST) +01:01
- Andy Schleck (SAX) +01:09
Other U.S. Riders
18. Lance Armstrong (RSH) +02:30
24. Levi Leipheimer (RSH) +02:53
43. Christopher Horner (RSH) +03:17
108. George Hincapie (BMC) +09:12
- Saxo Bank 69:03:10
- Garmin Transitions +00:11
- Sky Pro Cycling +00:25
- Astana +02:21
- BMC Racing +02:50
Overall Points Standings
- Thor Hushovd (CTT) - 102 Points
- Alessandro Petacchi (LAM) - 88 Points
- Robbie McEwen (KAT) - 81 Points
Best Young Rider
- Geraint Thomas 23:00:08
- Andy Schleck +00:46
- Roman Kreuziger +02:01
187.5K (116.5 miles) - Thursday July 8
- Epernay is the capital of the Champagne region
- This stage is best suited for sprinters
- Sprint Points at: Vauchamps, Ville-Saint-Jacques, Prefontaines
- Mountain Passes: Cote d'Orbais-l'Abbaye located at 18.5 kilometers - 1.6 km climb to 4.8 percent grade - Category 4; Cote de Mecringes at 36.5 kilometers - 1.3 km climb to 5.4 percent - Cat. 4