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Mark Cavendish (Etixx - Quick-Step) said stage 15 of the Tour de France was about "trying to survive" despite finishing as a bunch sprint, as the Manxman blamed illness for falling behind the peloton in early part of the race.
Cavendish drifted to around 15 minutes behind the race leaders and rolled home across the line with that same gap, as sprint rival André Greipel (Lotto-Soudal) powered to stage victory ahead of John Degenkolb (Giant-Alpecin) and Alexander Kristoff (Katusha).
On a fast stage to Valence, the opening section of the race uphill was particularly frantic as the breakaway tried to form, and Cavendish says that he just had to "pray for an easy start."
>>> Five talking points from stage 15 of the Tour de France
Two Etixx riders, Michal Kwiatkowski and Matteo Trentin, made it into the nine-man escape that lead for much of the day as the sprint teams chased. A move that Cavendish says was in the original game plan.
"I was up last night with diarrhoea. Obviously I don't want to say that before the start of the stage, in case of team tactics you pray for an easy start," Cavendish said in a statement.
"We had the plan that we would get guys in the break anyway. I didn't feel good at the start at all. It's a shame because I was going good the last couple of days and guys who I was easy hanging on longer than [were] just riding past me on the first hill."
The 183km stage was the last real chance for the sprinters before the race reaches Paris, despite having a category two climb 60km from the finish. Because of that though, the break was never allowed out of arm's reach from the peloton and with an average speed of around 46kmph on the stage, there was little chance for Cavendish to catch back on with his teammates Michal Golas and Mark Renshaw.
Now the Brit, who will be hoping to add to his win on stage seven on the Champs-Elysées next Sunday, will be looking to the rest day on Tuesday before a tough series of mountain stages in the Alps.
"After 30km it was about trying to survive the day really," Cavendish said. "We knew we weren't a chance winning with me but we had guys in the break, which is really good.
"It was a hard day for us but I'm still in the Tour de France, which is nice. I'm just looking forward to trying to get to Paris and hopeful I'm not ill the next days."
Tour de France 2015 stage 15 highlights
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