Highlights of 2012 – Part II

As part of a series of highlights of the year, here is Stage 18 of the Tour de France and Mark Cavendish’s sprint win.

Cavendish is sometimes called “Cannonball” and this time he sprinted like he was fired out of gun. The sprint into Brive on Stage 18 of the Tour de France is worth watching just for the speed of the final kilometre but there’s more to this than the final sprint, the first is the story of rivalry between Cavendish and André Greipel which made the sprints exciting, and the second story is one of accommodating riders with different goals on a team.

As for the sprint itself, it was a hilly stage on broad wide roads, a day for a breakaway but the open roads encouraged a chase although some late hills did not suit the sprinters. In the end the breakaway was caught at the end and Cavendish took his latest sprint win.

The first story is the rivalry with André Greipel. Cavendish wins the stage and an award as the Tour’s greatest sprinter from L’Equipe too but we had a good contest with Greipel, with the German winning three stages in July thanks to his brute force and the support of several team mates. The pair have long had a rivalry which has at times turned sour but for the most part it’s the ideal kind of duel, competitive but rarely bitter, fierce but not foul. Sport needs these stories, not just to stop one rider winning everything which becomes boring but to ensure the same rider doesn’t monopolise the media too. Plus rivalries are easier for a wider public to comprehend than a three-way fight or worse, no obvious sprinter.

Sprint World Championship
All year we get great sprints but it often takes the Tour de France to see the big names all go head to head. If you want to see Cavendish, Greipel, Matt Goss, Marcel Kittel, Peter Sagan and the others then the Tour is the place. In 2012 Cavendish and Greipel met up in the early season races in the Gulf… with Kittel beating them in Al Seeb in the Tour of Oman. Then there was only Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne, Tirreno-Adriatico and the Ster ZLM Tour before they duelled in July.

Falling out of the Sky
The second story was the ambition of Team Sky which evolved over the year and the way Mark Cavendish had to fit into this. Signed with a fanfare he’s left the squad after just one year. It’s been a saga but I don’t see the controversy as the top team wanted the best sprinter who is British but it was obvious the team couldn’t support both ambitions of yellow and green jerseys in the Tour without introducing some risk, the very thing Sky hate. Back to July and if Cavendish was winning stages he was also on team duty, taking turns in the wind and stuffing his rainbow jersey with waterbottles, an image that pleased many but disturbed others too at the time.

In selecting the team for July Sean Yates had put his foot down and refused extra sprint help for Cavendish, probably the final straw for Cavendish. Yates was again laying down the law and said Stage 18 was too hilly plus the team’s riders needed to rest ahead of the final time trial: he said “no” to setting up a sprint. But the riders decided to overrule him and with Wiggins’ blessing, set up Cavendish for the sprint. Mutiny’s too strong but it shows how decisions can be taken on the road, and at the time none of this was known.

There have been plenty of other good sprints in the year:

  • Tom Boonen taking Gent-Wevelgem. Everyone knows he likes a long sprint but there was nothing anyone could do to stop him
  • Cavendish’s second stage win in the Giro to Fano where the average speed for the last kilometre was a reported 70km/h
  • Watching Andrea Guardini beat Cavendish in the Giro, the young Italian had tried but failed until this day when he launched his characteristic acceleration
  • FDJ riders Démare and Bouhanni head to head in the French national championships
  • Finally for an odd one, Wiggins winning a stage in the Tour de Romandie although it was more a sustained effort than a sprint

Overall it’s been a good year for sprinting but a shame Marcel Kittel’s guts were moving faster than him during the Tour de France. We’ll see what 2012 brings but with Cavendish and Greipel being chased by a new generation like Degenkolb, Bouhanni, Démare and more it means even more of a contest.

  • You can see Part I here.

22 thoughts on “Highlights of 2012 – Part II”

  1. I’m disappointed in Guardini and went from hoping he’d be the one to challenge Cav in the near future to wishing him ill luck.

    I have no proof but I was on Giau the day before that stage win and he was holding on to a police outrider’s motorbike. I am convinced that it made the difference to his win as the day before’s stage was arguably the toughest of the race. It also cost Cav a red sprinters jersey – something that rarely ends up in the hands of a sprinter at the Giro.

  2. A great win for sure, reminiscent of the 2009 MSR win how he manages to accelerate away, get a bit of a slipstream and then break through, all the while looking like a cat on the prowl ready to pounce. Impressive.

    My favourite Cav win of the year was actually the Stage 13 at the Giro. Sky gets swamped by GreenEdge in the last km, but Cav bides his time, has to restart his sprint (see 6:30 from above), squeezes along the barriers, and still has the 2nd jump to take it. His combo of craftiness and acceleration is just a joy to watch (kind of a rich man’s McEwen). I actually think it’ll be more boring watching him sprint at Quickstep cause he’s going to get great leadouts.

    • I get all the Cav love as he can sprint faster than I can drive a car, but both the video clip above and the 2009 MSR win are not typical drag-race style sprint wins. In both cases he’s sprinting directly against guys who aren’t finish line sprinters. It looks like he’s shot out of a cannon because LL Sanchez and Hausler are nowhere close to as fast as Greipel, Kittel, Sagan, etc. For me Cav’s wins on the Champs are far more telling of his strength and speed.

      • I love watching the Champs Elysees. At the Tour de France all the top sprinters are in peak condition and fighting for the win. The final stage is most likely to end in a sprint and is the pinnacle for the sprinters at the tour. Cav has been fantastic the last few years.

    • His realisation just afterwards that there’s quite a big gap after Cavendish is also rather entertaining – oops better keep sprinting LL 😀

  3. These sprints by Cav really prove to me that he IS the fastest (at the end of a road race). He took off from 300m out, gapped everyone and then passed the bunch up ahead. That is some serious speed.

    I’m always amazed at the critiques of this form of winning by commenters (rarely here, I’m thinking more VN readers) who say that all he can do is sprint. A) he must first arrive and then B) pass all the others who are trying to win as well.

    Anyone who doesn’t have a WC jersey but has raced, must surely know how hard it is to speed past others who are also sprinting. Bravo Mark Banana.

  4. His long sprint on the Champ Ellysee (stage 21) was my favourite! How he took off out of the last corner, with a bit over 300 meters to go! The chasers, such as Goss and Sagan only managed to get within a wheels distance behind him! Cav did not even need to give his famous 2nd ‘kick’, just held them off with panache! Kind of sprinting style that reminds me of Thor Hushovd’s sprint win at the Worlds, as fluid as a shark while the other sprinters are shacking all over the place!

  5. I did not know Stage 18 was the result of a mutinous leadout – thanks for that tidbit.

    Cav is bloody fast. Unstoppable, really. You speak of a rivalry with Mr. Gorilla, but I think mano-a-mano, aero-hobbit takes the line every time. I think the Petacchi/Cipo/Zabel rivalry was more equally matched than today’s field.

    I get frustrated watching teams roll the dice with a multi-team leadout train when Cav is near the front. Because by then, my money’s on Cav to take the sprint. Watch the Olympics – you had Froome, Wiggo, and Millar pace Cav. Everyone knew the British plan – so what did people do? Attack, disrupt, and avoid a sprint finish… result – gambler’s win. This in itself, may indicate Cav’s incredible influence on race tactics.

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