Cavendish equals Eddy Merckx's record
He has hated the apparent relentless nature of the questioning for so many years, but on Friday, July 9, 2021, Mark Cavendish finally gave a definitive answer to the question: “Can you equal Eddy Merckx’s record of 34 Tour de France stage wins?”
That answer was a convincing, deafening – and in the past week, inevitable – yes. Scream back the reply, Mark, for you have made history.
The sport’s fastest and greatest ever sprinter has rolled back the years in the past 13 stages, scoring four sprint wins and utterly dominating the field.
Merckx’s record had stood for 46 years. It was assumed, rightfully given the modern sport and Merckx’s generational blessing, that it would stand for decades more. It was an unreachable tally.
Yet ever since Cavendish’s first Tour win in 2008, he has slowly knocked away at the deficit and now he is on-par with the Belgian legend.
What’s more, providing the 36-year-old gets through the Pyrenean mountains, you would bet everything you had on him winning the final two sprint days on stages 19 and 21.
He’s level now, but surely he’s soon to be the standalone leader.
Green looks likely for the Manxman
As a consequence of Cavendish’s stage successes, he is now surely set to win the points classification for only the second time in his career.
Every win he picks up adds 50 points to his tally that now stands at 279, a massive 101 points ahead of Michael Matthews in second.
Matthews and Sonny Colbrelli, who is fourth on 151 points behind Jasper Philipsen who has 20 more, are working hard to reduce Cavendish’s lead in the intermediate sprints.
But the Australian and the Italian are performing a thankless task for the maximum 20 points they can pick up mid-stage are dwarfed by what Cavendish is routinely collecting at the end of sprint stages.
It is true that the pair could very feasibly collect some points in the coming five stages in the Pyrenees, but Cavendish’s main concern about losing green will be centred on him staying in the race.
He will struggle through the Pyrenees and no doubt come close to the time cut once or twice, but should he make it out of the southern mountain range still in the race, he will be in pole position to win green again and repeat his success from 2011.
Deceuninck – Quick-Step are the authors of the sprint textbook
Cavendish’s win on stage 10 in Valence was not just impressive for nudging him closer to Merckx’s record, but for the absolute quality of Deceuninck – Quick-Step’s lead-out for him. It was one of the best lead-outs of recent times.
On stage 13, the lead-out wasn’t as smooth and there was a moment when they lost contact at the very head of the race, but it was as good as they come and it shows everything about the speed, precision and tactical knowhow of the team that Michael Mørkøv, the last man, could very feasibly have won the stage himself.
It’s not uncommon for Mørkøv to finish inside the top-10 after leading one of his team-mates out, but the Dane finishing second in Carcassonne is testimony to his strength.
The team’s unrivalled ability to set up Cavendish has other riders and teams scrambling to get on the back of their sprint train, for they know that right now they are unmatchable and unbeatable.
What we’re witnessing in this edition of the Tour de France is the definitive guide on how to lead-out a sprinter.
Breakaway foiled unlike yesterday
When Thomas De Gendt speaks about breakaways, it’s wise to listen. Most of the time, anyway.
The Lotto-Soudal man predicted that today’s stage would go the way of the break, much like it did yesterday when the sprinters were denied their chance to sprint for glory.
Due to the lack of sprint teams left in the race, there was a sense that too few teams would be willing to work for one, paving the way for the escapees to triumph.
But instead such predictions didn’t pass and it was telling within the first play of the race that a finish for the fast men to battle over was the order of the day, with just three riders being allowed to go up front and them never having a sizeable advantage.
The sprinters got their day unlike 24 hours earlier, but they’ll have to wait a whole week more to do it again.
Simon Yates abandons raising doubts over Olympics
The list of abandonments in this Tour keeps on growing with Simon Yates the latest big star to call time on his participation in the race.
A crash with 62km to go saw a number of riders fall into a ravine and Yates was one of the worst off, struggling to re-join the race.
There were no immediate signs of injury but the former Vuelta a España winner was in too much discomfort to be able to continue.
Yates will be disappointed as he was targeting stage success in the coming days in the Pyrenees, especially on Sunday which finishes in Andorra, his place of residence.
More worrying for the BikeExchange rider will be the Olympics though. Along with his twin brother Adam, he is aiming to win gold in the men’s road race which takes place on Saturday, July 24 – two weeks from now.
He will be desperately hoping that he hasn’t suffered any serious injuries and that he can compete as planned in Tokyo.
The bad luck continues for the Great Britain men’s road team with Geraint Thomas and Tao Geoghegan Hart, the other members of the squad, also crashing in the Tour. Both, however, remain in the race.
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