While Mark Cavendish usually proves instrumental in delivering his team’s victories by crossing the finish line first, today he turned lead-out tactician to help deliver a first win for his Bahrain-McLaren squad.
With 500m to go, the third-last rider in Bahrain-McLaren‘s train pulled off the front, leaving Phil Bauhaus leading the pack with Cavendish tucked in his wheel. The plan was to lead out their star sprinter but that was soon turned on its head.
Maybe Cavendish was still feeling the effects of his ‘big impact’ crash but the plan for the stage win now focused on Bauhaus. Two hundred metres later the German checked a couple of times behind him, assessing his rivals before sprinting off the front as Cavendish let his wheel go.
This slight hesitation gave Bauhaus the gap he needed, having shown his strength with as second place finish the day before. This time, however, the German powered to the stage victory as the rest of the pack scrambled behind and failed to catch him.
“I managed to finish it, great!” said Bauhaus after the stage. This was the second day in a row Cavendish would act as a foil for his team-mates, having launched Heinrich Haussler yesterday in the run-in before Niccolò Bonifazio broke free in the closing kilometre to take the victory.
“It was a really tough day. We really went full throttle from the first climb, but the team was really fantastic,” Bauhaus added. “My team-mates had been leading all day and came up with a great lead-out in the last three kilometres.”
Rod Ellingworth has said he believes Cavendish is returning to his best form, reporting no problems with his power after having fully recovered from the Epstein-Barr virus that plagued his past couple of seasons.
The Manxman took the race to his rivals on stage one of the Saudi Tour, getting himself in the front group after crosswinds split the race. The steep finale proved too much for the sprinter, though, but was then on-hand during the next two stages to assist team-mates going for the win.
While Ellingworth has said victories may not come immediately for Cavendish following the virus, more encouragingly he believes the racer within the 34-year-old is back, and happier amongst his new team-mates, having arrived from Dimension Data for the 2020 season. Judging by Cavendish’s willingness to work for his new colleagues in his first race for Bahrain-McLaren, this does indeed seem to be the case.
Two stages remain in the inaugural Saudi Tour, and Bahrain-McLaren are well-placed to deliver on their target of a GC podium. Bauhaus leads Rui Costa in the overall classification by three seconds, while Heinrich Haussler sits in fifth, 13 seconds back.