• This win meant a lot for the Manxman as he got to wear his first yellow jersey (AAP)Source: AAP
Mark Cavendish has ‘wowed’ the cycling world many times before but the way he did so at the opening stage of the Tour de France on Saturday was more through stunted shock than awe.
By
Sophie Smith

3 Jul 2016 - 8:58 AM  UPDATED 3 Jul 2016 - 9:00 AM

Cavendish bested Marcel Kittel (Etixx-QuickStep) and Peter Sagan (Tinkoff) at the sombre location for the finish, Utah Beach, to claim Stage 1 and the first yellow jersey of the race and his career.

The victory more or less renders his sprinter’s CV perfect, considering his world championships win, volume of stage victories as well as one-day races. Now all it is missing is an Olympic medal that the 31 year-old will have an opportunity to procure on the track at the imminent Rio Games with Great Britain.

“If he wins Olympic gold in a month he probably could stop his career, just walk out and say, ‘I’ve won everything,’” Dimension Data teammate Bernhard Eisel said. “But this is not Mark Cavendish. He’s definitely going to stay a little bit longer, make our lives a bit harder.

“It’s a massive success for all the team, probably the biggest success,” Eisel added. “For him, wearing yellow is something he always dreamed of. The pressure was on the last years, especially this year people said, ‘he’s preparing for the Olympics, he’s not ready for the Tour.’  It seems like he’s ready for both.”

Cavendish was as hidden in the bunch as he was in pre-race press coverage on the weekend with most eyes on German pair Kittel and recently crowned national road champion Andre Greipel (Lotto-Soudal).

With all due respect to his well-documented history at the Tour, the Manxman’s bold ambition to balance track and road commitments in the lead-up to the 103rd edition led to many declaring that he would be hard pressed to mix it with the other sprinters.

Cavendish had, previous to Saturday’s victory, never beaten Kittel in a head-to-head sprint before and he has not been the dominant fast-man of the race for a few years. His preparation event, as Eisel noted, the Tour of Slovenia, didn’t go to script either with the former world champion abandoning through illness in stage two.

Media past the finish line on Saturday paused after the now 27-time Tour stage winner crossed the line before a journalist offered, “wow” in a summary of a tale that not many had planned to pen for all of the aforementioned reasons.

Contrary to previous editions, Cavendish is not the centrepiece of a team. Dimension Data is at the Tour with about five men committed to his cause and the rest opportunists with their own equally weighted goals.

Long-time chief pilot Mark Renshaw outlined to Cycling Central earlier this week that the African outfit planned to follow rival trains rather than hit the front as an ominous force that the pair used when they rose to prominence with Highroad.

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It was a strategy well executed during the blustery opening stage from Mont-Saint-Michel where Dimension Data moved up only within the last 10km allowing Lotto-Soudal, Etixx-QuickStep and the primary general classification teams to keep order throughout.

“For many years we had to ride because everyone said, ‘yeah, you’re going to win anyway so keep riding,’” Eisel said. “This time, they had to do the job … we tried to stay at the front all of the time and stay out of trouble and I think that was the key.”

“He [Cavendish] did what we told him to and always followed.”

Cavendish, Renshaw and Eisel transferred to Dimension Data on reported three-year deals this season. Cavendish in a post-race press conference said he had enjoyed reuniting with past teammates, including Edvald Boasson Hagen, who crashed in the final, at the squad, emphasising trust.

“He’s definitely on fire now,” long-time confidant Eisel said. “He wasn’t great in Tour of [Slovenia] two weeks ago; I saw him two days ago and he was a different Mark Cavendish. I knew he was back on.”

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Dimension Data will have to ride during stage two on Sunday in which the opportunists are anticipated to play a hand on the category three uphill finish likely to see the maillot jaune change shoulders.

“It’s a little bit of a shame, I’m guessing he’s going to lose it tomorrow,” Eisel said.

“To respect the jersey we’re going to ride tomorrow but we’re not bringing back every group.”