Mark Cavendish (and his team) are untouchable
British sprinter Cavendish has been out in the wilderness for so long, only to prove he is still the best sprinter in the world at the age of 36.
Defying his doubts, his age, and most importantly his rival sprinters, Cavendish took his tally of Tour de France stage wins to 33, winning his third stage of this race (and I’ll try to avoid mentioning the Merckx record, which is one win away…)
This is turning into one of Cavendish’s most successful Tours de France and while it may not yet be matching his personal best tally of Tour wins in a year (six stages, 2009), he looks almost nailed on to take another victory to make it four before the end of the race, if he can make it through the mountains.
But Cavendish himself put stage 10 victory down to his team, as Deceuninck flashed back to a 2010s HTC-style lead out, smashing it on the front of the bunch 3km from the finish to keep Cavendish at the arrowhead through the tricky winds.
The team didn’t drop the ‘Manx Missile’ off until 150 metres to go, with Cavendish finishing off the stellar work of his squad.
Another absolutely remarkable page in one of the most remarkable stories in all of sport right now.
Wout van Aert challenges a sprint
It’s been two years since Wout van Aert announced himself as a bunch sprinter in the 2019 Tour de France, leaving cycling fans and pundits speechless.
We knew then he could race cyclocross, win time trials, and feature in the Classics, but his victory over the likes of Elia Viviani (Cofidis) in Albi in 2019 marked Van Aert as surely the most versatile riders in a generation.
This season sadly we haven’t seen the best of Van Aert the sprinter, as he came into the Tour slightly lacking in form after suffering from appendicitis during his preparation, but on stage 10 we saw a flash of that previous fast-twitch brilliance.
Van Aert had to exert himself in the final 20km of the stage, helping split the race in crosswinds for his general classification leader Jonas Vingegaard, which didn’t dislodge any of the top-10 overall, but despite that exertion the Belgian champion was still able to freelance his way to second-place on the stage behind Cavendish.
Van Aert’s role in the Tour has always been split between opportunism for his own stages and vital support for GC leaders, but owing to his lacking form in this year’s Tour we haven’t seen the best of Van Aert’s own ambition.
But his performance day proved he’s still an elite sprinter, as he was able to battle to the podium with virtually no support from his team, outskilling the likes of Nacer Bouhanni and his full Arkéa-Samsic train and Jasper Philipsen (Alpecin-Fenix).
As the fatigue sets in for the sprinters, Van Aert is even more likely to thrive, unless he leaves the race early to focus on the Olympics.
Pogačar defends his jersey in the crosswinds
While stage 10 looked like an easy day on GC, this Tour continues to prove there is no such thing.
After the unwelcome reminder that disaster can strike at any time earlier in the stage, with Richie Porte (Ineos Grenadiers) and Mads Pedersen (Trek-Segafredo) both going down in separate crashes), the winds began to blow in the final 20km of the stage as splits began to form.
The first split came 17km from the line as the peloton constantly changed direction, with Jumbo-Visma, Ag2r-Citroën, EF Education-Nippo and Ineos Grenadiers all blasting the front of the lead group for GC, with Deceuninck pitching in with the stage in mind.
There was a pivotal moment where yellow jersey Tadej Pogačar was almost caught out in the splits, but in characteristic fashion he turned on the afterburners to sprint back across to the lead group, taking some of his team-mates with him (even though it should surely have been the other way around).
After that there was no real risk of a GC shake-up again, as the peloton slowed with all of the top-10 firmly in place, but it was still a welcome moment of action on yet another good stage in this year’s Tour.
The GC fight is still not over
If there’s one thing that this sprint stage proved, it’s that the fight is not over.
While the time gaps in the overall top-10 are still pretty dramatic, as Pogačar leads by two minutes over his nearest rival and more than five minutes over third place, the crosswind action on day 10 showed that rivals are not willing to lie down.
While Ineos put in a shift after the split, with Richard Carapaz even leading the group himself at one point, it was a treat to see both EF Education-Nippo and Ag2r really shaking things up.
These are two teams not renowned for their team strength nor their tactical prowess in GC racing, but to see the full train of pink EF riders smashing the front for podium-sitter Rigoberto Urán is an exciting prospect.
Seeing Ag2r also pulling hard for wildcard Ben O’Connor, who soared into second overall after his breakaway to Tignes, with Olympic champion Greg Van Avermaet putting in work for O’Connor, was another welcome sight.
I hope these teams can stay in contention to keep them motivated, adding to the number of teams willing to push Pogačar all the way.
Riders still willing to take up the fight ahead of Mont Ventoux
When only two riders committed to the breakaway on stage 10, it looked like it could be one of those Tour de France sprint stages, and with a double ascent of Mont Ventoux to approaching on stage 11 who could blame the riders.
But that wasn’t how it played out, as sprint teams fought hard to keep the pace high during the lumpy middle section of the stage, and that was followed by some tense racing in the winds late in the stage.
The riders in this Tour are continuing to impress as they have been racing full gas since the first day and aren’t showing any signs of letting up.
On stage 11, the two ascents of Mont Ventoux sounds absolutely brutal and it does spark the concern that maybe it’s one of those stages too hard to actually spark any real attacks.
But with so many GC riders with very little to lose, I think the attacks won’t stop as the peloton takes on the ‘Giant of Provence’.
That will be compounded by the fact that stage 11 finishes back at the bottom of the mountain, as riders will have to tackle the long descent to the line after the second summit of Ventoux, entirely changing the shape of the race and ensuring it won’t be a sprint in the final few metres to gain time.
Instead anyone who wants to make big gains has to go long, and let's hope someone is up for it.
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