It’s odd how quickly some things become routine. Five years ago, a British rider winning a stage in the Tour was something that happened once every few years when a Boardman, Millar or Yates picked up a time trial victory. Now, it almost feels like the Tour hasn’t started properly until we see Mark Cavendish picking up his first win of the year.
All sprint wins are different, but Cavendish’s 21st yesterday was a step change from the twenty that had come before. It was his first for Team Sky, and the first he’s achieved almost entirely by himself. The pattern for the last few years had been simple – a breakaway went clear, HighRoad led the peloton in chasing it down, then one by one their riders peeled off the front as they dragged closer to the finish, delivering Cavendish to the perfect spot. Yesterday saw him in much more of a scavenging role, relying on the other teams to chase down the break and then working his way up through the pack towards the end.
It’ll be interesting to see if he can repeat the trick in later flat stages, and what the others will do to try and combat it, but for now I think he’s entitled to feel very satisfied at having answered all the ‘he only wins because of his train’ criticisms.
Other interesting points were that in a purer flatter sprint, it was a battle between Cavendish, Greipel and Goss, with the others (including Sagan) lagging a little behind. Those three could split the flat stage victories between them, which might make for an interesting battle for the green jersey all the way to Paris.
Cavendish is now just one win behind Andre Darrigade in the all-time list. Darrigade is the sprinter with the most wins, and matching or beating him would be a major achievement for Cavendish. He’s also set an interesting record in having the most stage wins without ever spending a day in the yellow jersey, and I wonder if the ASO might bring back first-week time bonuses to try and rectify that at some point in the future. Once he passes Darrigade (and Armstrong)’s 22 wins, he’ll also have the most wins by someone who’s not won the race overall, as only Leducq, Hinault and Merckx will then lie ahead of him.
Today’s not likely to see win number 22, though. It’s a curious little stage, running through northern France but annoying the cobbled roads though hitting a number of short and steep climbs on the run in to Boulogne. It’s tricky to predict how this one will go, as the number of climbs at the end make it unlikely a long break will succeed, but someone launching an attack at the right point (probably just after the sprint) could stay away. Alternatively, the peloton could stick together over the climbs with the main attacks not coming until the end, as they did on Sunday. It’s another chance for someone to grab some glory, while the leading contenders try to hold on and not lose any time to each other.
In years past, this would have been the perfect stage for Thomas Voeckler to attack on, but I can’t see the peloton letting him get away and gain time after his heroics last year. It is an opportunity for someone to stake their claim as the new Voeckler, but quite who it will be, I don’t know. However, Vacansoleil haven’t featured in any of the breakaways yet, and that’s rather unusual for them so my tip for the day is to watch out for Johnny Hoogerland, Gustav Larsson or possibly even Lieuwe Westra surging up the road. Hoogerland would be an incredibly popular stage winner after his crash last year.