Mark Cavendish has equalled Bernard Hinault for second on the all-time list of Tour de France stage winners after beating Andre Greipel in the bike throw to the line of stage three.
The win was Cavendish’s second of this Tour and brings his career tally to 28, the same number as Hinault and six short of cycling legend Eddy Merckx. However, Cavendish refused to be compared to the two five-time Tour winners.
“To put myself in the same sentence as Bernard Hinault or Eddy Merckx is something I’m not going to do,” said the 2011 road world champion. “But in terms of number of wins, whether I only win one in my career, or 28, or 50 it doesn’t matter. I come here to the Tour de France and try and do my best to succeed.”
The 223.5km flat stage was uneventful until the final 10km where road furniture disrupted lead-outs and an uphill drag to the finish proved more decisive than some had thought.
“It was quite a key hill in the final so it was important to get a run up on it,” Cavendish said. “If you head out too early someone can come from behind and Andre is a gutsy rider, he’s got balls on him and will go right to the end.
“When I went to pass him he went again and it was touch or go whether I’d pass him. I didn’t get him really with the sprint, I got him with the launch to the line so pretty fortunate with that.”
Greipel’s chief pilot Greg Henderson in hindsight said his Lotto-Soudal team leader may have picked the wrong gear for the finish, which he compared to a 'heavy duty wash cycle'.
“The instant reaction when you’re a sprinter is to dump it in the biggest gear you have, so he’s in the 54/11 [his biggest gear] going around this corner and it just climbs all the way to the line,” he said. “It’s easy to say maybe the 54/12 would have been a better decision but it’s just instinct.
"There’s so many fast guys here that have one or two guys to bring them to the front so it’s just a washing machine there for 10km,” Henderson added. “My job is to sit on the back of the train, Greipel moves up a couple to protect him from the washing machine, so I’m sort of right in the middle there grabbing hooks from everyone.
“We all lost each other and then Jens [Debusschere], Jurgen [Roelandts] and I met again at about 1.5km and we got back to Greipel, because he was already in a good position. Jurgen went first because there’s no point putting two of us in front of Greipel with 500m to go.”
The relaxed start to the stage added to the frenetic final where the roads widened and narrowed sporadically, said Henderson.
“No one could organise a train in that mess. There were turns and then you’ve got the GC guys there as well trying to keep themselves out of trouble so it’s just chaos,” he observed.
Cavendish characteristically commended his new Dimension Data teammates as well as sports director Roger Hammond after the race that Hinault was present for.
“If that’s my last Tour de France stage win I can be happy with 28,” he said.