'Class and experience set Mark Cavendish apart'

Teammates, rivals and team staff reflect on Mark Cavendish's success so far at the 2016 Tour de France

Photo: Yuzuru Sunada
(Image credit: Yuzuru SUNADA)

Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data) sprinted to his 30th win in the Tour de France at the bird park in Villars-Les-Dombes, something made possible by "class and experience" say those close to him.

Dimension Data's Manxman beat Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) and Peter Sagan (Tinkoff). With the victory, he bagged four out of the five sprint stages so far in the Tour and edged closer to Eddy Merckx's all-time record of 34 stage wins.

"What sets him apart is his quick reaction time, he just knows what he's doing," long-time helper Bernie Eisel told Cycling Weekly.

"Sometimes you think sprinters improvise, but they have a plan. At the same time, they are like pilots and they can change it in a millisecond. You can compare it to pilots, if you keep training and doing the same thing, at a high pulse and on the limits, you will do the right thing because you have done it before."

The talkative Austrian pulled Cavendish to sprint wins with Highroad and Team Sky, and now in the South African WorldTour team.

"It's his speed, his commitment and probably the craziness that sprinters bring when they are young. But later on, you are going with more experience and just... class."

New Zealander Greg Henderson helped with Cavendish's heavy work in team HTC-Highroad before going with André Greipel to build a train in team Lotto-Soudal.

He warmed down and shook his head with amazement and disappointment, he said he had expected Greipel to win one stage by now and had not thought Cavendish would take four out of the five.

Dimension Data put Cavendish in position for the final three kilometres, from there, though, Cavendish relied mostly on the big sprint teams of Lotto-Soudal and Etixx-Quick Step – for Marcel Kittel, winner of the other sprint stage.

"That's just what he's good at," Henderson said. "He has a lot of attributes when it comes to sprinting and finding gaps. You can just see him go from train to train."

"Cav gets put in a real good position by his team, but in the end he's pretty assertive and he puts himself in some good places," explained Daniel McLay (Fortuneo-Vital Concept), a new-comer to Tour sprints.

"The other thing, with a guy like Cav or Kittel, is that everyone wants to be on their wheel. So if they push in front of someone, it's like, 'Oh, good, I'm on Cavendish's wheel now."

Watch: Highlights of stage 14 at the 2016 Tour de France

Etixx General Manager Patrick Lefevere leaned against his car with a grin. He knows Cavendish well, he had him in his Etixx team from 2013 to 2015. He reached out to Kittel to lead his team as soon as he heard that Cavendish would leave for Dimension Data.

"And he now has the best lead-out in the world, which since the beginning of this Tour, has been Marcel Kittel," Lefevere said.

"A rider of his talent, you can't write him off before he's dead. He always comes back. If he wins the first time, he usually wins the second or third time. Once you start winning, it's easier to win again."

Lefevere, when asked how Cavendish upset the big sprint trains in this Tour de France, responded quickly, "He's educated on the track. He's small. He's fast."

Cavendish built his season around this Tour and the Rio de Janeiro Olympics, where he will represent Great Britain in the Omnium. One journalist at the finish said that he would not have bet one euro on Cavendish winning four stages in the Tour, or even two or three, because of the relatively quiet build up.

It seems Cavendish, starting already after day one at Utah Beach when he won the stage and yellow jersey, has found his comfort zone.

"To be fair, it is the track but it's not what people think," Cavendish said. "It's not about strength – I'm exactly the same physically as I was in the last few years – you kind of refresh your racing nous on the track. You need to be patient and assess situations, and I think that is the key thing, I'm a lot more patient than last year."

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