Tour de France, Stage 21: Mark Cavendish Again

Only one highlight for me today: Mark Cavendish.

He said he wanted to win in Paris, and then he went out and did it. The prelude was pretty familiar. The other sprinters’ teams gave Columbia-HTC the job of pulling back a breakaway, which stayed out until the last lap on the Paris circuit. Then the usual script got something of a twist: Garmin-Slipstream took a run at the front about 4 kilometers from the end and stayed there over the next 3 kilometers. This was a change of tactics after having failed repeatedly to jump past Columbia’s train on the finishing stretches on several of Cavendish’s other wins.

But Columbia was only waiting for its moment, and at 1,000 meters it struck. As the peloton got read to exit the Rue de Rivoli, George Hincapie surged to the left to lead Mark Renshaw and Cavendish past Garmin, whose two remaining riders (Julian Dean and Tyler Farrar) fell in behind. In the last bend–a right into the home straight–the Garmins made a bid to sneak through on the inside. They didn’t get there in time. Renshaw and Cavendish closed the lane and their momentum carried them clear across the road to the left-hand barrier as they entered the Champs-Elysees, 400 meters from the line. In fact, they shed the pursuers and won the race right there, Renshaw surged up the boulevard with Cavendish on his wheel. At about 250 meters, Cavendish rocketed alone to the front and was still pulling away as he hit the line; Renshaw got an easy second. (I timed the final kilometer and by my watch it took 55.7 seconds, giving an average speed of 40 or 41 mph; Cavendish must have topped out around 45).

Usually, I find the sprints to be nerve-wracking. Although the teamwork, daring, opportunism, and power on display in the sprints are impressive, I’ve never warmed up to the sprint stages in the Tour. They seem to have so little to do with the overall outcome of the race. But Cavendish and his team were so phenomenal in this Tour. The team utterly dominated the final kilometers of virtually every sprint stage, and Cavendish is in a league of his own when he smells the finish. Honestly, he looked like an expression of pure joy in his final acceleration toward the line. It was beautiful to watch.

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