IT’S been a long time between drinks at the Tour de France for one of the fastest men on two wheels, reports JOHN TREVORROW:
STAGE four of the Tour de France produced another fairy-tale finale when Mark Cavendish rolled back the clock and sprinted with speed of old to take his 31st victory in the great race, his first since 2016.
Cavendish’s career appeared over towards the end of last year but he has been reborn in 2021 and completed one of the greatest comebacks the sport has seen.
The Manx Missile was a last minute inclusion in the Deceuninck Quickstep team, controversially replacing Irishman Sam Bennett. ““Three weeks ago, I wouldn’t have imagined this. This race is everything to me,” Cavendish said.
“I had fire in my eyes. The last time I did this finish I had fire in my eyes, too, it hadn’t been a successful Tour for me and it’s just fitting that the last win with Deceuninck-QuickStep is here in Fougères and my first is here, too, in the same place.”
Cavendish was referring to the fact that team boss Patrick Lefevre saved his career after Cav spent two years in the wilderness when struck down with the Epstein-Barr virus.
“You don’t sign for Deceuninck-QuickStep with Sam Bennett in the team who won the green jersey and two stages last year, thinking you’re going to the Tour. I literally signed because I knew these were the happiest days of my career when I was here before and I wanted to be in a happy environment. That’s when I’ve got my best results.
“In Chateauroux, where we go on Thursday, I tasted victory in the Tour for the first time (2008) and it was a race that I grew up dreaming of. And every single time I’ve stood on the podium since then it’s been the same,” he explained.
“It’s almost been forgotten how hard it is to win a Tour stage because I had won 30 of them. But it’s not easy at all, you know? That’s been the hardest thing that I’ve had to cope with the people not understanding the sacrifices I’ve put in to win those 30 stages.
“I’m just fortunate I’ve had another shot. This race has given me the life I have and I’ve given it the life I have. From the first time in 2008 until now, I’m living a dream,” a reflective Cavendish said.
Cavendish was quick to have a dig at the media. “It’s not about proving someone wrong,” he said, before adding, “it’s nice to prove someone wrong. Anyway, half the press room hasn’t written a good story for longer than I’ve not won a bike race but they’re still here at the Tour de France.”
But the win almost didn’t happen.Embed from Getty Images
After a brief rider go-slow protest the race went back to the script with a breakaway going early but with only two participants, Belgian Brent Van Moer (Lotto Soudal), riding his first Tour, and Frenchman Pierre-Luc Perichon (Cofidis). The pair were never given a huge lead but with 15kms to go the lanky Belgian rode clear and produced an amazing solo effort, very similar to the one that delivered him a stage win in the recent Dauphine. The finish was a nail-biter with Van Moer being caught only in the final 200 metres.
Cavendish has also taken over the green sprinters jersey from teammate Julian Alaphilippe and looks set to have a long battle with Aussie Michael Matthews who is only 11 points behind.
Over the years Cavendish has had a strong Australian connection with Mark Renshaw being his lead-out man for much of his earlier career and when he won his road world title in 2011 it was Aussie Matt Goss who almost got him on the line. He also had some great battles with Robbie McEwen towards the end of Robbie’s illustrious career.