Mark Cavendish went one better than the great Eddy Merckx yesterday as he strengthened his grip on the green jersey with yet another textbook sprint victory.
“Philippe Gilbert desperately wants the jersey and is an incredibly talented rider who will find a way of getting a few points back, while Jose Rojas is a better climber than me and there are some intermediate sprints that perhaps he can get some points.
But hopefully we can stand on the podium in Paris with this on the shoulders.” Wise, grounded words but Cavendish is a man on a mission this year and it is that Merckx-like hunger and need for victory that defines him.
Yesterday he and his team demonstrated all those qualities in spades during the 120-mile run from Limoux to Montpellier which proved much more problematical than expected. Listed as a sure-fire sprinters’ stage, strong gusting winds did their best all day to break the peloton and offered hope to great opportunists such as Gilbert.
General Classification riders, fretful of being lost in a sudden split, as happened on the stage to nearby La Grande Motte two years ago, rode hard at the front of the peloton for safety but the HTC-Highroad train rattled on, undisturbed from dawn to dusk. It is one of the great sights in sport, though a nightmare for those in opposition.
“I don’t think there’s been one of my 19 wins that I’ve done alone, and that just shows the commitment those guys have towards me and I’m incredibly lucky for that,” said Cavendish. “It’s the sniff of a victory like this that makes the suffering in the mountains worthwhile. I crossed the finish line first but it’s not just me.
I did 200 metres today in a 200km stage. They did the rest. “The team rode and delivered me to the line, they didn’t try and close the gap too quickly and put me into the red when Gilbert went with 3km to go.
It was perfect. I’m incredibly proud to be associated with them and the fact that these guys ride out of their skin means I mustn’t fail.” While the big GC riders seem to be slumbering their way through the Tour, the battle for the green jersey has been waged without quarter from day one and has lit up this Tour.
It will again take centre stage when racing resumes tomorrow with Cavendish on 319 points, 37 ahead of Rojas (282) and 71 in front of Gilbert (248). HTC and their unsung heros – Lark Bak, Danny Pate, Tony Martin et al – will have to be on their mettle yet again because the mixed terrain to Gap is prime territory for Gilbert, while Rojas might also fancy a dart.
Cavendish himself should not be ruled out and, refreshed by a day’s rest, he might even be tempted to go for yet another win, despite a category-two climb six miles from the finish. Tomorrow will be followed by three gruelling days in the Alps, so simple survival will be the key before Paris, where Cavendish is virtually unbeatable. Getting there safely and in contention is the priority and will underpin everything he does this week.
Tour de France details Stage 15, Limoux – Montpellier; 187km: 1. Mark Cavendish (GB – HTC-Highroad) four hours 20 minutes 24 seconds, 2. Tyler Farrar (US – Garmin-Cervelo) at same time, 3. Alessandro Petacchi (Ita – Lampre-ISD) s.t., 4. Daniel Oss (Ita – Liquigas-Cannondale) s.t., 5. Jose Joaquin Rojas (Spa) Movistar) s.t., 6. Ben Swift (GB – Team Sky) s.t.,7. Gerald Ciolek (Ger – Quick Step) s.t., 8. Tony Gallopin (Fra – Cofidis, Le Credit En Ligne) s.t., 9. Francisco Ventoso (Spa) Movistar) s.t., 10. Sébastien Hinault (Fra – Ag2r-La Mondiale) s.t. Selected others: 20. Nicolas Roche (Irl – Ag2r-La Mondiale) s.t., 116. Geraint Thomas (GB – Team Sky) s.t., 119. David Millar (GB – Garmin-Cervelo) 28secs. Most aggressive rider: Niki Terpstra (Hol – Quick Step). Overall general classification: 1. Thomas Voeckler (Fra – Europcar) 65hrs 24mins 34secs, 2. Frank Schleck (Lux – Leopard-Trek) 1min 49secs, 3. Cadel Evans (Aus – BMC Racing) 2mins 6secs, 4. Andy Schleck (Lux – Leopard-Trek) 2mins 15secs, 5. Ivan Basso (Ita – Liquigas-Cannondale) 3mins 16secs, 6. Samuel Sanchez (Spa – Euskaltel-Euskadi) 3mins 44secs, 7. Alberto Contador (Spa) Saxo Bank-SunGard) 4mins, 8. Damiano Cunego (Ita – Lampre-ISD) 4mins 1secs, 9. Thomas Danielson (US – Garmin-Cervelo) 5mins 46secs, 10. Kevin de Weert (Bel -Quick Step) 6mins 18secs. Selected others: 18. Nicolas Roche (Irl – Ag2r-La Mondiale) 10mins 56secs, 42. Geraint Thomas (GB – Team Sky) 35mins 27secs, 58. David Millar (GB – Garmin-Cervelo) 55mins 30secs, 127. Ben Swift(GB – Team Sky) 1hr 54mins 39secs, 134. Mark Cavendish (GB – HTC-Highroad) 1hr 58mins 34secs. Points classification: 1. Mark Cavendish (GB – HTC-Highroad) 319 points, 2. Jose Joaquin Rojas (Spa – Movistar) 282pts, 3. Philippe Gilbert (Bel – Omega Pharma-Lotto) 248pts, 4. Thor Hushovd (Nor – Garmin-Cervelo) 192pts, 5. André Greipel (Ger – Omega Pharma-Lotto) 170pts, 6. Cadel Evans (Aus – BMC Racing) 159pts, 7. Tyler Farrar(US – Garmin-Cervelo) 141pts, 8. Mickaël Delage (Fra – FDJ) 122pts, 9. Edvald Boasson Hagen (Nor – Team Sky) 105pts, 10. Alessandro Petacchi (Ita – Lampre-ISD) 96pts. Selected others: 18. Geraint Thomas (GB – Team Sky) 68pts, 59.Ben Swift (GB – Team Sky) 20pts, 65. David Millar (GB – Garmin-Cervelo) 17pts, 102. Nicolas Roche (Irl – Ag2r-La Mondiale) 2pts. Mountains classification: 1. Jelle Vanendert (Bel – Omega Pharma-Lotto) 74pts, 2. Samuel Sanchez (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi) 72pts, 3. Jérémy Roy (Fra – FDJ) 45pts, 4. Andy Schleck (Lux – Leopard-Trek) 28pts, 5. Cadel Evans (Aus – BMC Racing) 26pts, 6. Frank Schleck(Lux – Leopard-Trek) 24pts, 7. Johnny Hoogerland (Hol – Vacansoleil-DCM) 22pts, 8. Sylvain Chavanel (Fra – Quick Step) 20pts, 9. Sandy Casar (Fra – FDJ) 19pts, 10. Geraint Thomas (GB – Team Sky) 18pts. Selected other: 39. David Millar (GB – Garmin-Cervelo) 2pts. Young rider classification: 1. Rigoberto Urán (Col – Team Sky) 65hrs 32mins 29secs, 2. Rein Taaramae (Est – Cofidis, Le Credit En Ligne) 1min 7secs, 3. Pierre Rolland (Fra – Europcar) 1min 25secs, 4. Arnold Jeannesson (Fra – FDJ) 2mins 10secs, 5. Rob Ruijgh (Hol – Vacansoleil-DCM) 5mins 1secs, 6. Jerome Coppel (Fra – Saur-Sojasun) 5mins 8secs, 7. Cyril Gautier (Fra – Europcar) 18mins 42secs,8. Andrey Zeits (Kaz – Astana) 22mins 56secs, 9. Robert Gesink (Hol -Rabobank) 27mins 26secs, 10. Geraint Thomas (GB – Team Sky) 27mins 32secs. Selected other: 28. Ben Swift (GB – Team Sky) 1hr 46mis 44secs. Teams classification: 1. Leopard-Trek 195hrs 47mins 43secs, 2. Europcar 6secs, 3. Ag2r-La Mondiale 2mins 32secs, 4. Garmin-Cervelo 3mins 43secs, 5. Cofidis, Le Credit En Ligne 14mins 14secs,6. Euskaltel-Euskadi 16mins 28secs, 7. Team Sky 27mins 49secs, 8. Quick Step 29mins 32secs, 9. FDJ 32mins 46secs, 10. Omega Pharma-Lotto 45mins 2secs.