'When Mark Cavendish sees the last 500 metre sign, he doesn't feel pain'

The sprinter's Dimension Data colleagues say he's found a new level at the 2016 Tour de France

(Image credit: Yuzuru SUNADA)

Mark Cavendish's aim to lead Dimension Data to sprint wins in the Tour de France and to win the Omnium gold makes him a dangerous cyclist for his rivals, says his team following his 29th career stage win today in Montauban.

Cavendish beat Marcel Kittel (Etixx–Quick-Step) in a tight sprint and held off the charge of Daniel McLay (Fortuneo-Vital Concept), who placed third. With it, he took his third win of 2016 Tour and his 29th in the stage race.

>>> How has track training helped Mark Cavendish in Tour de France sprints?

He topped Bernard Hinault at 28 and moved closer to Eddy Merckx's all-time record of 34.

"He's lucky to be able to find his new focus here and has major goals," Dimension Data Sports Director Roger Hammond told Cycling Weekly. "A guy on that level, with goals like that is always dangerous."

Cavendish began this Tour less of a favourite for sprint wins than Marcel Kittel and André Greipel (Lotto-Soudal). The Germans dominated the sprints over the last three years.

Cavendish's best Tour days had been his in his first participations. He won six stages alone in 2009 and the green jersey in 2011. He crashed out in the first stage of 2014 and last year managed one stage win before leaving team Etixx-Quick Step to join Dimension Data this winter.

That changed in this edition, where Cavendish has won three out of the four sprints.

"It's a bonus [to top Hinault]. I wouldn't have come to the job if I didn't believe Mark would be able to perform at the same level and still be able to do it," added Hammond.

"Are we happy and pleasantly surprised? Definitely happy, but not too surprised to see him flying, to be honest. You just to see the work going on in the background to understand how focused he is. This is definitely wasn't through the lack of effort."

Cavendish trained on the track and raced a World Cup and the World Championships to earn selection in the Great Britain team for the Olympics and to have a chance to win gold in the Omnium.

It took away from the number of road races he participated in and his chances to win. Ahead of the Tour, he won a stage and the overall of the Tour of Qatar, a stage in the Tour of Croatia, and one in the Tour of California.

Long-time sprint helper Bernhard Eisel did not imagine such success.

"I thought that if we could manage as a team to win two stages, that's impressive," Eisel said. "We still have Edvald Boasson Hagen, Steve Cummings and the others for the mountains. Mark Renshaw and I keep saying we are the B-Team, and you should wait for the A team!"

Cavendish has a few more chances left to win. After the mountain stages and a rest day, the race resumes with a sprinters' stage to Revel.

"What is it about Mark? It's the legs speed at the end of a race when he goes he goes," continued Eisel. "When he sees the one kilometre or the last 500 metre sign, he doesn't feel pain. I don't know what it is."

"There's quite a few chances left," added Hammond. "We are going day by day in the Tour, really. If he had beaten in the uphill sprint, then we would've adjusted our plans. He's now winning everywhere."

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Gregor Brown

Gregor Brown is an experienced cycling journalist, based in Florence, Italy. He has covered races all over the world for over a decade - following the Giro, Tour de France, and every major race since 2006. His love of cycling began with freestyle and BMX, before the 1998 Tour de France led him to a deep appreciation of the road racing season.