It’s a bit of a cliché, but this time Mark Cavendish’s huge smile as he crossed the finish line of stage two of the Tour of Catalonia with his arms in the air really did say it all. After all, it’s been more than six months since the HTC-Columbia sprinter last took a win, in stage two of the Tour of Missouri last year, but at Catalonia Cavendish proved conclusively he is back on top of his game.
And although Cavendish was a clear winner at the slightly uphill finish in the small town of Banyoles ahead of SaxoBank’s Juan Jose Haedo, this was no straightforward victory.
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The first challenge of the day was nothing less than a first category climb, the Alt de Els Angels, which – as it turned out – Cavendish got over without difficulties.
But if things were looking more and more likely to end in a bunch sprint as the stage progressed, as Cavendish pointed out afterwards, the HTC-Columbia squad in Catalunya has a lot of young riders, some of them not too experienced in setting things up for a mass dash for the line. The last three kilometres of the stage were technical, too, with several dangerous corners and a steepish uphill section close to the finish.
However, it all worked out well. The team stayed in control of the race throughout the 180 kilometre stage, brought back the two-rider break of the day and then set Cavendish up as best they could for the sprint. After that, it was up to Cavendish to deliver and he crossed the line with the victory as safely in his pocket as any of the previous 51 wins of his career.
“More than relief I feel pride because the team never lost their confidence in me,” Cavendish said afterwards.
“They gave it 100 percent and despite this being a young team here, they commited fully and they never lost faith. Without them, I wouldn’t have won.”
After the bunch had ridden four times through the finish area on a nine-kilometre circuit that concluded the stage, Cavendish said one key factor in his success on the final, definitive run-in had been team-mate Tony Martin giving it full gas on the uphill section.
“That played to my advantage because I’m a lighter sprinter than some of the other guys and Tony really strung things out.”
Cavendish said that his riding in the last kilometre had been similar to 2008 when he jumped from one team’s train to another before taking off for victory – and this time he did so with 250 metres to go.
“But without my team I wouldn’t have been there in the first place,” he insisted. “Even though some of the guys are learning the ropes of how to work towards a bunch sprint, they stayed together and gave it 100 percent.”
Apart from his sprint strategy, Catalonia 2010 is a return to Cavendish roots in other ways. Back in 2007, the Briton won two stages of the Spanish race, his first full year as a pro.
Since then Cavendish has become cycling’s top sprinter, but the start to this year, blighted by illness and an enforced delay to his race debut, have meant that in 2010 the Briton has had it tougher than ever when it came to fighting for victory. However, after some near misses, Cavendish’s first win – and in one of Spain’s biggest stage races to boot – has finally arrived.
Voss still in control
Paul Voss (Milram) retains the overall lead after his surprise win in the opening 3.6km time trial on Monday. RadioShack duo Levi Leipheimer and Andreas Kloden are second and third on GC. Cavendish keeps hold of his seventh spot overall – with no time bonuses on offer his win has not enabled him to take the race lead as it might have done.
One rider who failed to sign on for stage two was Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank). The Tour de France hopeful withdrew from the race suffering with stomach problems.
Tour of Catalonia 2010, stage two: Salt-Banyoles
1. Mark Cavendish (GB) HTC-Columbia 182.6km in 4-15-46
2. Juan Jose Haedo (Arg) Saxo Bank
3. Aitor Gonzalez (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi
4. Samuel Dumoulin (Fra) Cofidis
5. Michel Kreder (Ned) Garmin-Transitions
6. Manuel Antonio Leal (Por) Footon-Servetto
7. Kristijan Koren (Slo) Liquigas-Doimo
8. Nicolas Roche (Irl) Ag2r La Mondiale
9. Ryder Hesjedal (Can) Garmin-Transitions
10. Daniel Moreno (Spa) Omega Pharma-Lotto all same time.
37. Chris Froome (GB) Team Sky
107. Steve Cummings (GB) Team Sky
130. Charly Wegelius (GB) Omega Pharma-Lotto all same time.
Overall classification after stage two
1. Paul Voss (Ger) Team Milram
2. Levi Leipheimer (USA) RadioShack at 1sec
3. Andreas Kloden (Ger) RadioShack at 2secs
4. Dominik Nerz (Ger) Milram at 4secs
5. Jan Bakelandts (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto
6. Davide Malacarne (Ita) Quick Step
7. Mark Cavendish (GB) HTC-Columbia at same time
8. Craig Lewis (USA) HTC-Columbia at 5secs
9. Nicolas Roche (Irl) Ag2r La Mondiale at 6secs
10. Kristijan Koren (Slo) Liquigas-Doimo at same time.
Rolling hills provided the backdrop to the day’s action
Peter Stetina and Jonathan Castroviejo went on a day-long break, but were reeled in within the final 15km
Race leader Paul Voss heads the bunch
The look on Cavendish’s face says it all: He’s back to winning