Team Fortuneo-Vital Concept positioned McLay for the final three to two kilometres to the sticky hot, 35°C, city north of Toulouse. The 24-year-old Brit moved through the bunch, bumped with team Trek-Segafredo and sprinted to third behind Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data) and Marcel Kittel (Etixx–Quick-Step) — two of cycling’s great sprinters.
Cavendish took his 29th career victory in the Tour and topped Bernard Hinault’s tally of 28. Eddy Merckx holds the record at 34.
“There was no words between us at the finish, we were both out of breath,” McLay said. “I just tapped him on the back and he gave me the thumbs up, that was it.”
McLay may be in his first Tour, but he is already pushing it with the big guns. He placed ninth twice behind Cavendish’s first two wins, seventh win Kittel won and today, third.
“If I can get over the mountains, I’ll have my shot to win,” McLay said with a cooling vest on as he warmed down on his trainer.
“I feel like my sprint’s there, I wasn’t so far today. [A stage win] has to be possible. I don’t’ know. Today, I had a good run at it, so did they, I wasn’t so far away.”
McLay only signed with Fortuneo for the start of 2015, when the professional continental team raced as Bretagne-Séché Environnement, because he could not find another top team. He made huge leaps ahead with wins in the GP de Denain and the GP de la Somme.
Those early season wins and the placings in the Tour leading up today took his confidence to a new level.
“I think so, after today, I can be confident that I have the legs, I just have to use them,” McLay added.
Cars squeezed by the team bus to leave the finish and he shouted in French for them to be careful. Even without the vest, McLay kept his cool.
“Today it worked better, I had Armindo Fonseca, Pierre-Luc Perichon, and Florian Vachon.
“’Cav’ was around a little by himself too, he had guys, but he was always trying to find them. To be honest, it was only Etixx who could stay together, and Katusha a little bit.
“I had some good help, three guys. OK, the last two to three K, I did it by myself. I think getting some more practice with that would be best, but it’s not the time to start in the Tour.”
McLay will need to wait until Tuesday in Revel to have his shot. The race enters the high mountains for the first time on Friday and stays in them through Sunday. Monday, the race takes its first rest day in Andorra.