Cavendish back at the top with Tour de France sprint win

Mark Cavendish (Deceuninck-QuickStep) returned to the top stage of racing with an emphatic win in Stage 4 of the Tour de France, the 31st of his career, adding lustre to his career in the sport after years racing below his scintillating best.

The entirely flat 150.4 kilometre stage from Redon to Fougères was taken out by Cavendish, but it was a very close-run thing between the bunch and early breakaway rider Brent van Moer (Lotto Soudal) who very nearly stole the show.

The Belgian rider rid himself of his only other breakaway companion with 14 kilometres left in the race, and then put in a very strong ride to hold off the peloton for as long as he did, entering the final two kilometres with 21 seconds lead. Van Moer was visibly tiring, mouth open in distress as he tried to maintain his power, and the peloton stormed past him with 150 metres to go as Jasper Philipsen (Alpecin-Fenix) opened up the sprint.

Philipsen took the shortest way round the slight bend to the finish, but Cavendish was able to pass the rider 13 years his junior and hold off a fast-finishing Nacer Bouhanni (Arkea-Samsic) to secure the win.

“I don’t know what to say man. Just being here is special enough, I didn’t think I’d be coming back to this race…” said Cavendish. “Just fire from the whole team. So many people didn’t believe in me and these guys do."

The 36-year-old hadn't been expected to make the 2021 Tour de France team for Deceuninck-QuickStep, after several down seasons and issues with glandular fever that saw him miss selection in 2019 and 2020, his last win at the biggest cycling race in the world coming in 2016. Cavendish was only selected days before the Tour, when star sprinter Sam Bennett pulled out of the team after not recovering from a knee injury. 

“When you come to Deceuninck-QuickStep you have the best riders in the world so I never thought I was coming here," said Cavendish. "I never want bad things to happen to other people. After these last bad years, it was nice to have that good luck.”

Michael Matthews (Team BikeExchange) did his green jersey chances no harm by finishing fourth on the stage, the best Australian on the day, as the general classification remained unchanged with Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) staying in the race lead.

The stage began with a rider protest after the heavy crashes in the first three days of the Tour, with the dangerous conditions of the previous day the main target of the peloton. The riders stopped enmasse for a minute, then continued along slowly for ten minutes before the racing began in earnest.

The early breakaway of Pierre-Luc Perichon (Cofidis) and Brent van Moer (Lotto Soudal) formed off the front but was never allowed much leeway, and without any mountains points on the course, there was precious little in terms of action until the final kilometres.

The peloton was relaxed in the chase of the escaped pair, a welcome change from the tension of previous days that had seen many crashes and abandonment from the race.

Van Moer tried a few attacks to dislodge Perichon as the gap to the peloton dipped under a minute with 20 kilometres to go, eventually distancing his French counterpart with just under 14 kilometres remaining. The gap actually increased as van Moer went solo up to a minute and 10 seconds with ten kilometres left as the Criterium du Dauphine stage winner - also from an early breakaway on a sprint stage - went very deep to hold to attempt to hold off the main bunch.

Tour de France continues with Stage 5, a mostly flat individual time stage over a 27.2 kilometre course finishing in Laval. Watch the action on SBS and SBS OnDemand from 2030 AEST, and the SKODA Tour Tracker from 2005 AEST. 

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4 min read
Published 30 June 2021 at 2:05am
By SBS Cycling Central
Source: SBS