Cavendish equals all-time record with dramatic sprint victory

It was a day when Mark Cavendish (Deceuninck-QuickStep) equalled the all-time mark for stage victories, sprinting to a tight win in the bunch sprint finish in Carcassonne ahead of teammate Michael Mørkøv and Jasper Philipsen (Alpecin-Fenix).

History was created in the medieval town of Carcassonne, the crenellated walls of the town citadel bearing witness to the 34th Tour de France stage victory of Cavendish. 

It was a close-run thing in the uphill run to the line as other riders looked the winner in the final few hundred metres, but ultimately it was Cavendish coming past teammate Mørkøv who took the close-run win.

"We made history," Cavendish exclaimed as he hugged teammate Davide Ballerini after the finish, but shied away from any comparisons with Eddy Merckx or the record itself in post-race interviews. 

“I haven’t realised, it’s just another win on the Tour de France," said Cavendish. "It’s like my first one. I’ve won a stage at the Tour de France, it’s what I’ve dreamed of as a kid. I’ve worked so hard for it.

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"Cycling has grown so much in Britain since I started cycling, if any one of my wins inspires them to ride the Tour de France or the Tour de France Femmes, that’s what means the most to me."

A long, hard day on the bike over the 220-kilometre course sapped the energy of Cavendish, the tightest of his sprint wins so far in this Tour de France, clearly taking a supreme effort on the uphill run to the line.  

“It’s tiring, that’s all I can think about, I’m so dead," said Cavendish. "220 kilometres in that heat, in that wind, with that final. I went so deep there, the boys were incredible."

Race leader Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) successfully navigated another day in the lead of the race, emerging through a day where a mass crash saw a number of riders, including Australian Lucas Hamilton, abandoning the race.

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A hard start to the race belied the sedate tempo through the middle stages of the race, as early crosswind sections saw big groups split off the front of the peloton, even forcing race leader Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) into action, riding to recover the front group in the early kilometres. 

After a few skirmishes off the front that were marked by Deceuninck-QuickStep, the eventual set break for the day got clear, with Omar Goldstein (Israel Start-Up Nation), Pierre Latour (TotalEnergies) and Sean Bennett (Qhubeka-Nexthash) going clear. 

The advantage got out to a maximum of four minutes and 20 seconds, with Deceuninck-QuickStep keep a tight leash on the move despite the 220-kilometre distance of the day's racing.

There was little action until the finale, with Deceuninck-QuickStep only receiving brief respite from Alpecin-Fenix in keeping the break pegged. 

Bennett was dropped from the move after being the most aggressive in throwing in attacks throughout the race, with Latour and Goldstein then throwing their own attacks at each other as they fought to a near standstill for the prize of the most combative rider on the stage.

The peace was disrupted with 67 kilometres to go as Philippe Gilbert (Lotto Soudal) launched an attack and suddenly the fight for the stage was back on. Kasper Asgreen (Deceuninck-QuickStep) was on policing duty, shutting down moves as they went off the front of the race.

In the midst of the heightened pace, a rider slipped toward the side of the road and with the speed of the riders behind there was a mass crash, with riders falling down the steep slopes next to the roadside. Tim Declercq (Deceuninck-QuickStep), Soren Kragh Andersen (Team DSM), Roger Kluge (Lotto Soudal) Simon Yates, Chris Juul-Jensen (both Team BikeExchange) appeared the worst off, Kluge abandoned the race immediately but the others remounted and continued with the race, as the pace remained high in the peloton with attacks still flowing for the next five kilometres. 

Eventually, the pace slackened to allow riders disadvantaged by the crash to catch back up, a truce that was kept even after the capture of the breakaway with 52 kilometres to go. Yates and Australian Lucas Hamilton (Team BikeExchange) abandoned the race after trying to continue.

Quentin Pacher (B&B Hotels) launched a solo attack with 45 kilometres left, an unconcerned peloton letting him get out to a lead of a minute and 20 seconds then slowly reeled him back in as the peloton approached the finish in Carcassonne, catching the Frenchman with 19 kilometres left to race as the top teams took to the front of the race.

A hard pace was set by INEOS Grenadiers as the race headed into the outskirts of Carcassonne, but while riders were put under pressure, none of the top GC riders or sprinters dropped and the sprint teams took over with five kilometres remaining.

All eyes were on Deceuninck-QuickStep hit the front with Cavendish in tow with 1.5 kilometres left. It was messy from there as Team DSM came forward to swamp the front of the race, Davide Ballerini (Deceuninck-QuickStep) tried a late move off the front, countered by Ivan Garcia Cortina (Movistar) who looked to be close to taking the win on the slight uphill sprint to the line, but Mørkøv came late to overhaul him, with Cavendish following and just passing his own teammate in the last few metres to claim his 34th win in the Tour de France. 

The Tour de France continues with Stage 14, a medium mountains day over 184 kilometres from Carcassonne to Quillan. Watch the action from 2030 AEST on SBS and SBS OnDemand, with the race getting underway on the SKODA Tour Tracker slightly earlier at 2015 AEST. 

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6 min read
Published 10 July 2021 at 2:19am
By SBS Cycling Central
Source: SBS