Mark Cavendish is writing his own story at this Tour de France and it seems he can even control the weather now. Barely half an hour after he won the 33rd Tour stage of his career in Valence, finishing off a quite brilliant leadout from his Deceuninck-QuickStep team to win stage 10 and move to within one of Eddy Merckx’s all-time record, the heavens opened.
Monsoon rain which would have rendered a bunch sprint a far more dangerous, sketchy affair, in particular a tight chicane at a roundabout with around 500 metres to go, poured down from the skies. It fell so hard onto the corrugated iron roof of the gymnasium where they chose to house the media here, that it was virtually impossible to hear what Cavendish was saying in his post-race press conference. That was an added bonus. It meant Cavendish could pretend not to hear any pesky questions about that Merckx record. Even if he had engaged we would not have heard his answer anyway.
Cavendish is notoriously prickly about the Merckx question. The great Belgian has become like Lord Voldemort at this race: He Who Shall Not Be Named. Twice he was asked about him in television interviews straight after the stage ended. He chose not to answer the first time and mumbled something vague about “always trying to win” when the subject was next broached.
It surely cannot be long until he is happy to. The chances of him equalling Merckx’s mark, and even going on to break it, are growing shorter by the day. The field of sprinters is thinning out – we have already lost Caleb Ewan, Tim Merlier, Arnaud Demare and Bryan Coquard – while Cavendish’s train is so dominant even he said he “didn’t do anything”.
That was doing himself a disservice. Cavendish was the fastest man in the field again, just as he had been in Fougeres and Chateauroux last week, jumping out from behind the wheel of leadout man Michael Morkov in the last 150m to beat Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) and Jasper Philipsen (Alpecin-Fenix) to the line. But the work his team had done to put him in position was sublime.
It might have been a difficult final for some teams to control, with crosswinds blowing in the last 20km. But crosswinds are manna from heaven to the Belgian classics specialists who kept Cavendish at the front of the race as echelons formed behind and everyone else scrabbled to hold position.
“I didn’t do anything today,” Cavendish said modestly after the finish. “My team did it all. It was old school, a textbook lead-out. Back in 2015, on this Valence stage, I got dropped and André Greipel won the sprint. We studied the route time and again, and tried to make echelons work in our favour.
“The bunch didn’t really split, but we didn’t mind because we were confident we had a good train. I just had to finish off the work from an Olympic track rider, a road World Champion, the winner of Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, the winner of the Tour of Flanders… I feel so humble they all devote their work to me. In the end, I didn’t do anything: just keeping my speed for the last 150 meters.”
Cavendish also kept hold of the green points jersey. He had seen his lead in the competition reduced at the intermediate sprint, which came at the top of a 3km uncategorised climb midway through the stage. Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain Victorious) and Michael Matthews (BikeExchange) took home 15 points and 13 points respectively, while Cavendish was nowhere to be seen.
But the Manxman had extended his advantage by the end of the day thanks to the 50 points he got for the stage win. He now has 218pts to Matthews’ 159pts.
Asked whether he was chasing the green jersey, which he won a decade ago, Cavendish demurred. “I came here to win stages,” he said. “If I win the green jersey as a consequence, fine, but it is not my priority.”
We know what that is. Cavendish may have the chance to go level with Merckx as early as tomorrow [Thurs] with stage 12 finishing in Nimes, where he won in his first Tour back in 2008. And failing that, he may have another opportunity into Carcassonne on Friday. His rivals are beginning to sound increasingly resigned to him winning, too. “I will try to win, especially for Eddy,” joked van Aert to Belgian broadcaster Sporza after the stage, before admitting he had been beaten by the “faster” man.
But it is far from a given. Cavendish has to climb Mont Ventoux – the ‘Giant of Provence’ – not once but twice today. Given he only made the time cut by just over a minute in Tignes on Sunday, admitting in a column in this newspaper that he felt “dead” at the finish, today’s stage could pose a serious threat. Perhaps his greatest. The fact that it is a longer stage, and finishes down in Malaucene rather than up at the summit, should help him.
Immortality beckons. Thirty-three Tour stage wins down, one to go.
That’s all the live reaction from me…
But read the above report for a full recap of remarkable race.
Here is what Cavendish had to say after the victory
“It was an old-school, run-of-the-mill, like you read in the cycling magazines, textbook lead-out,” Cavendish said. “Just getting the lads on the front, pull as fast as they can so no one can come past you.
“We knew this finish, I didn’t make it the last time we came here in 2015, I got dropped, but we studied it and we knew if we took that last corner wide, we could keep the speed up.
“It actually split in the wind. We didn’t try to split it, we were confident we had the team for the sprint, but again I’m just humbled.
“I’ve got the winner of the Tour of Flanders (Kasper Asgreen), the world champion who’s been in the yellow jersey here (Alaphilippe), Michael Morkov who’s going to the Olympics to try to win the Madison, the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad winner (Davide Ballerini) leaving everything on the road for me.
“I just had to finish it off. I’m grateful to all of them. I didn’t have to do anything – just the last 150 metres. I’m thankful to everyone.”
No wonder Cavendish was quick to thank his team-mates…
Cavendish is just one stage win away from tying the record now!
And here is Cavendish up on the podium
Mark Cavendish was extremely complimentary of his team-mates post race
And here he is thanking them.
Here are the general classification standings
1 Tadej Pogacar (Slo) UAE Team Emirates 38:25:17
2 Ben O’Connor (Aus) AG2R Citroën Team 00:02:01
3 Rigoberto Uran (Col) EF Education-Nippo 00:05:18
4 Jonas Vingegaard (Den) Jumbo-Visma 00:05:32
5 Richard Carapaz (Ecu) Ineos Grenadiers 00:05:33
6 Enric Mas Nicolau (Spa) Movistar Team 00:05:47
7 Wilco Kelderman (Ned) Bora-Hansgrohe 00:05:58
8 Alexey Lutsenko (Kaz) Astana-Premier Tech 00:06:12
9 Guillaume Martin (Fra) Cofidis 00:07:02
10 David Gaudu (Fra) Groupama-FDJ 00:07:22
“It was an old-school, run-of-the-mill, like you read in a cycling magazine lead-out. I didn’t really do anything until 150 metres. It was all the team.
“When I go for the green jersey, I go for stage then hopefully the green jersey comes.”
Here is the moment that Cavendish made it 33!
Here are the stage standings
1. Mark Cavendish
2. Wout van Aert
3. Jasper Philipsen
4. Nacer Bouhanni
5. Michael Matthews
Tadej Pogacar manages to retain the overall lead.
That was timed to perfection!
Remarkable control from Cavendish and his team.
33 stage wins and counting! He was under threat but just had too much in the tank for his rivals.
500m to go
Here comes Cavendish!
1km to go
The riders go around the final corner as the peloton grapples for position.
1.7km to go
Colbrelli has fought his way back to the front of the pack after that mechanical failure.
2.8km to go
Cavendish has been superb so far today and he is in a fantastic position as we enter the final part of the stage. Can he secure another stage win?
4km to go
All the big name sprinters and GC contenders remain towards the front.
5.6km to go
Houle has been designated the most combative rider today after leading for much of the race.
7.3km to go
There are now three distinct groups formed as dark clouds appear overhead.
9km to go
Here we go! We are in for a dramatic end to this stage. Cavendish is hovering just off the front.
10km to go
Cavendish is not right at the front any longer. He is surrounded by team-mates, biding time for his attack.
11.7km to go
There is a mix of sprinters’ teams and GC contenders still at the front.
A split is starting to happen. A large group has now broken off from the front.
14.2km to go
Moves are starting to be made. A breakaway threatens but the peloton stays with the front group. Cavendish is in the front group.
17.5km to go
The front of the peloton is still all bunched together, the lead changing frequently. It is going to be a fascinating finish.
19km to go
Colbrelli, one of Cavendish’s main sprint rivals, is back with the pack after a frantic chase.
23.3km to go
Cavendish remains in a strong position and the energy that Colbrelli is having to expend to catch back up will do him no harm.
25.5km to go
Colbrelli has a mechanical problem! He drops away from the back of the peloton looking for his team car. It finally catches up with him and now he is onto a new bike. Terrible timing for Colbrelli just as the cross-winds are starting to pick up.
28km to go
The front of the peloton is starting to pick up the speed now. Alaphillipe is at the front, setting the pace.
Here is the moment Houle was caught
34km to go
The climb is over and Cavendish remains in a strong position to launch.
35km to go
Cavendish is looking good on this climb, going strong and maintaining a good position.
Houle has now been caught too! The race is all back together now. It was Hamilton that caught him after some impressive riding.
37km to go
The front of the peloton is vying for position at the moment, the leader chopping and changing as the sprinters look to establish a place to launch from towards the end of the stage.
Van der Sande has fallen away from the front, dropping back to the peloton. Houle remains out in front.
41km to go
There is now 5.5km of uncategorised climb for the peloton to deal with.
Houle and Van der Sande’s time gap is back up to a minute. It was as little as 19 seconds at one point.
43km to go
Mark Cavendish is towards the front of the peloton on the left hand side. He is nicely positioned.
45km to go
The time gap is being attacked now. It is sub 30 seconds.
48km to go
Houle and Van der Sande remain out in front by themselves. The gap is down to a minute now, the peloton slowly hauling them in.
50km to go
There may be some rain arriving shortly. The wind has also started to pick up with 50km to go. The stage becomes more exposed to the elements as it nears the end.
The crash was largely made up of Ineos riders – they are back in the game
60km to go
Houle and Van der Sande’s lead is down to 1min 25sec. The peloton has made up 35 seconds or so over last 8km.
65km to go
There is a huge crash at the back of the peloton! Richie Porte goes down but he is back racing, this time on a different bike. Everyone involved seems to be ok.
68km to go
Yellow jersey wearer Tadej Pogacar is towards the front of the peloton. He is safely surrounded by plenty of his UAE Team Emirates team-mates.
75km to go
The pace has started to slow down a touch. Both the two leaders and the peloton have taken their foot off the gas.
The time difference between them is now back up to around the two minute mark.
Chris Froome looks like he is enjoying himself!
83 km to go
The peloton is closing the gap on the leaders. They are now just over a minute behind.
88km to go
Van der Sande and Houle remain out in front of the pack.
Cavendish’s lead under threat
Cavendish decided against contesting the intermediate spring, instead focusing on trying to win the stage.
It is now mathematically possible for Matthews and Colbrelli to take the green jersey in Valence after those intermediate sprint points.
96km to go
The lead of the two riders out in front has decreased to 2min 7sec after the sprint stage. The gap has closed by nearly 90 seconds.
98km to go
Here are the full results of the intermediate sprint at La Placette (km 82.3)
1. Tosh Van der Sande, 20 pts
2. Houle, 17 pts … At 1’50’’:
3. Colbrelli, 15 pts
4. Matthews, 13 pts
5. Philipsen, 11 pts
6. Sagan, 10 pts
7. Ballerini, 9 pts
8. Asgreen, 8 pts
9. Sweeny, 7 pts
10. Dillier, 6 pts
11. Küng, 5 pts
12. Oss, 4 pts
13. Formolo, 3 pts
14. Herrada, 2 pts
15. Hirschi, 1 pt
Sonny Colbrelli wins the sprint from the peloton
Colbrelli holds off a challenge from Michael Matthews.
105km to go
The peloton is now into the intermediate sprint. A group of riders breakaway from the front of it but Cavendish is not among them. He wants the stage win, not the intermediate sprint points!
109km to go
The first 13 riders from the peloton will pick up points from the intermediate sprint alongside the two leaders.
111km to go
The leaders are 3km away from the intermediate sprint.
And there is a crash at the back of the peloton! Mads Pederson of Trek-Segafredo and Julien Simon of Team TotalEnergies. Both are now back on their bike and continuing with the stage.
114km to go
Tosh van der Sande and Hugo Houle are currently three and a half minutes ahead of the peloton.
We join the race with 122km to go
Belgium’s Tosh van der Sande and Canada’s Hugo Houle lead the stage at the moment having broken away from the peloton earlier in the race.
Mark Cavendish is back in the main group, eyeing up another stage win as he continues his remarkable comeback.
Good afternoon, can Froome find a return to form like Cavendish?
Mark Cavendish has backed Chris Froome’s bid to return to competitiveness and said his own experience proved nobody should be written off.
Cavendish’s remarkable resurgence continued last week as he collected his first Tour de France stage wins since 2016, moving to 32 in his career, despite being a late call-up to the Deceuninck-QuickStep squad.
After several years in which he was impacted by illness and injury, fearing his career was over in the winter, Cavendish can empathise with the challenges facing Froome, who is still recovering from a devastating crash in 2019.
Like Cavendish, Froome is racing the Tour for the first time in three years, but the four-time winner sits 153rd in the general classification, one hour and 47 minutes down on race leader Tadej Pogacar.
The 36-year-old knew he would not be competitive this year, but the Israel Start-Up Nation rider retains his dream of pursuing a record-equalling fifth Tour title in the future.
“I can talk from personal experience – you don’t write somebody off,” said Cavendish, also 36. “It’s down to the individual, how long they want to do something and what they feel they can come back to.
“Unless you are that person you can never understand. Chris Froome has been a champion for many years. Very, very few people in the world can get to that level so people will not understand the mindset, and understand the fight to get back…
“Froomey is a friend of mine but even if it was somebody I didn’t like, if I saw somebody being able to suffer physically and mentally to try to come back to somewhere they were and they know where they can get to, I applaud it, it’s the strongest thing you can do.”
Cavendish enjoyed a superb opening week of the Tour, winning stages four and six while moving into the points leader’s green jersey, but like many endured a tough weekend in the mountains.
The Manxman looked emotional as he embraced the team-mates who safely got him to the finish of stage nine into Tignes inside the time cut on Sunday, and admitted he was in great need of Monday’s rest day.
“I can’t remember a first rest day of the Tour de France feeling like a second rest day,” he said. “Everybody is completely spent.”
Today’s stage 10 looks much more favourable with 191 relatively flat kilometres between Albertville and Valence on the menu – an opportunity for Cavendish to move to within one stage win of Eddy Merckx’s Tour record of 34, and extend his advantage in green.
“There’s a lot less sprinters (in the race), that’s for sure,” Cavendish said of the impact of a tough opening week.
“We’ve got a strong group with experience who know how to control a race so we just have to hope for the best I guess.”