Manx Missile fires at last to leave sprint rivals in his wake and silence his critics
Mark Cavendish (HTC-Columbia) won the fifth stage of the Tour de France between Épernay and Montargis, as the HTC-Columbia team got its sprint to come together at last. The Manx Missile finished well clear of his former teammate Gerard Ciolek (Milram) with Edvald Boasson Hagen (Team Sky) repeating yesterday’s third place.
Like the previous day’s stage to Riems, stage 5 returned to the usual pattern of a long-distance breakaway pulled back by the sprinters’ teams close to the finish, after the chaos of the classics-style stages at the beginning of the week. With temperatures reaching the mid-30s centigrade, the peloton was content to take it easy for most of the 187.5km stage, until it was time to let the sprinters do their thing once more.
“I just sat on Mark Renshaw’s wheel and I knew he’d deliver me to the right place and he did,” said Cavendish after the stage. “I just had to go for the line and it was slightly uphill… we looked the finish on Google Earth this morning and it looked like a flat finish but we had the info relayed back by Erik Zabel [the team’s sprint coach] about how it wasn’t so flat. We had to keep the speed high and it’s an incredible feeling to win.”
Cavendish started this year’s Tour as the man to beat, but after missing out on the two sprint stages so far the expectation has weighed heavy on the young Manxman’s shoulders.
“All that pressure that has built up through the year has finally been lifted,” he said. “For sure, I’m going to try and win more stages but thank god the work paid off today.
“It’s the Tour de France,” he continued, “it’s the biggest bike race in the world, and it was the goal this year to win again but so many people wanted to take away from me and the team had done.
“It doesn’t matter how much you say it’s not going to affect you,” he said of the criticism he has received, “it does. It puts pressure on you.”
“We didn’t have the best of luck in the first few days and yesterday we did have luck but I let the guys down,” he admitted. “They did a one hundred per cent perfect job and it could have been easy for them to give up today but they took it on again. They did more than they should have had to do and that’s an incredible thing to have.
“It’s an incredible bunch of guys who put their faith in me and to ride like they did amazing,” the Manxman continued, paying tribute to his HTC-Columbia team. “‘Kosta’ [Kanstantsin Sivtsov] is bandaged from head to toe and for the last two days he’s ridden nearly 300km on the front and the other guys did a lot more than they had to. Tony Martin has something to work for in the later days and Michael Rogers is going for GC but they still rode and all I did was follow Mark Renshaw. He was fighting and fighting with everyone but he got me there and dropped me off at the line perfectly.
“I’ve had doubts about myself,” he concluded, “especially yesterday; but we gave it a shot again and it’s nice to finally win.”
Spanish champion Jose Ivan Gutierrez (Caisse d’Epargne) attacked after 6km and was joined by Julien El Fares (Cofidis) and Jurgen van de Walle (Quick Step). After 28km the trio was 7’55” ahead of the peloton before HTC-Columbia took control and sent Kanstantsin Sivtsov forward to reduce the deficit. With Gutierrez just 3’24” behind Fabian Cancellara (Saxo Bank) in the overall classification, the Danish team sent Stuart O’Grady forward after a few kilometres; by the 60km mark the gap was down to 4’45” and falling.
With around 75km to go, with the gap below 3’30” and Gutierrez no longer a danger to Cancellara’s lead, Sivtsov’s HTC-Columbia teammate Maxime Monfort came to the front of the peloton. As the peloton entered the final 50km the American team was joined at the front by riders from the Cervélo TestTeam and Lampre-Farnese Vini. The gap was now down to less than 2 minutes and the breakaway trio’s capture was looking inevitable.
With 25km to go the breakaway’s lead was reduced to 1’25”, but with the peloton anxious not to make the catch too soon, it still stood at 1’18” with 20km to go: at 15km to the finish it still stood at 1’15”.
Once the sprinters’ teams were properly organised though, the gap suddenly began to come down rapidly and as they passed under the 10km to go banner the trio had just 40 seconds. The three riders began to look nervously over their shoulders now and with 6.5km to go, with the peloton just 20 seconds behind him, Gutierrez attacked the other two in a solo bid for the line.
With 5km to go Gutierrez, perhaps spurred on by his country’s victory in lastnight’s football World Cup semi-final, still held 12 seconds. With Lampre-Farnese Vini sending a number of men forward to help the HTC-Columbia team though, the Spanish champion conceded at just under 4km from the line.
With the breakaway finally caught the Garmin-Transitions team moved forward in force. HTC-Columbia’s Bernhard Eisel still had the front of the peloton with 3km to go, but he had a long line of Garmin-Transitions riders, led by David Millar, right behind him.
Eisel pulled over and the Argyle team led the race in to the final few kilometres. Under the red kite they still had two riders, Robbie Hunter and Julian Dean, leading sprinter Tyler Farrar; the rest of the peloton’s fast men were lurking behind the American though. Cavendish still had his lead out man Mark Renshaw with him and the pair seemed happy to allow another team to do the work.
The peloton managed to get around the final corner with 600 metres to go, with Garmin-Transitions still in pole position. As Dean tried to launch Farrar down the left side of the road though, Renshaw launched Cavendish down the right. The Manxman’s acceleration was reminiscent of his six stage wins in last year’s race; the American seemed sadly to still be hampered by his injured wrist though and was unable to compete with the rest.
The rest of the big names found themselves right behind Cavendish as he opened up his sprint, but none was able to get anywhere close to coming alongside the flying 25-year-old. He comfortably took his eleventh career stage in the Tour, and the first in this year’s race. Ciolek looked most likely to challenge but ultimately finished more than a length behind, with Boasson Hagen trying to come alongside him.
All of the riders at the top of the overall classification finished together in the peloton, so there are no changes to the overall standings. Cancellara hangs on to the yellow jersey, ahead of British champion Geraint Thomas (Team Sky) and World champion Cadel Evans (BMC Racing).
Result stage 5
1. Mark Cavendish (GBr) HTC-Columbia
2. Gerard Ciolek (Ger) Team Milram
3. Edvald Boasson Hagen (Nor) Team Sky
4. Jose Rojas (Spa) Caisse d’Epargne
5. Thor Hushovd (Nor) Cervélo TestTeam
6. Sébastien Turgot (Fra) Bbox Bouyges Telecom
7. Robbie McEwen (Aus) Team Katusha
8. Alessandro Petacchi (Ita) Lampre-Farnese Vini
9. Lloyd Mondory (Fra) AG2R-La Mondiale
10. Tyler Farrar (USA) Garmin-Transitions
Standings after stage 5
1. Fabian Cancellara (Swi) Team Saxo Bank
2. Geraint Thomas (GBr) Team Sky @ 23s
3. Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC Racing Team @ 39s
4. Ryder Hesjedal (Can) Garmin-Transitions @ 46s
5. Sylvain Chavanel (Fra) Quick Step @ 1’01”