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.