Sunday’s stage — and the race finale on the Champs Elysees in Paris – are the remaining opportunities for sprinters wanting to stamp their authority on the 102nd edition.
Cavendish placed well ahead of his pure sprint rivals in Friday’s searing hot and undulating 13th stage, finishing 58 seconds in arrears of winner Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) compared to Andre Greipel’s 12 minute and 10 second deficit. Green jersey favourite Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo) finished second on the stage.
Cavendish typically improves throughout a Grand Tour, but some pundits speculated that Friday’s effort could prove detrimental come Sunday’s 183km run from Mende to Valence.
“[Today] is a day off as much as you can say it’s a day off in the Tour,” Etixx-Quick-Step sports director Rolf Aldag said at the stage 14 start in Rodez. “Cavendish has today to save a little bit, and tomorrow will be I think that one day effort that he has to put in.”
The undulating 15th stage features three categorised climbs before the halfway point and a fourth and final category two (7.9km at 5.8 per cent) some 60km from the finish, which could impact on the race.
“Of course there’s no guarantee we can get over that climb,” Aldag said. “There will be a big question mark as to how the race situation is until then.
“If you have 15 guys in front at four minutes it makes no sense for us to go to the front and chase; if there is a combined interest from the sprinters from Lotto, from us, from Giant, then it makes sense to try and control the race. We would love to give Cav that chance to give it a try and get over the climb.
“The interest of Tinkoff and Alpecin might be to unload Cav on that secondary climb and go to the finish, so it’s tricky, but it’s also interesting how you handle it tactically.”
Cavendish has added one victory to his now career 26-stage haul at this year’s race after a sluggish start where Greipel has twice prospered.
The former world champion has attempted to make the most of any opportunities, as his performance during the difficult stage 13 showed.
“We thought we would give it a try because we knew he’d won something similar, not exactly the same but something similar in the past, and there are not too many chances,” Aldag said.
“He got himself into a good position. He was thinking very clearly and analysing the situation,” he continued. “He just lost the wheels of [Michal] Golas and [Zdenek] Stybar on that right bend 700m from the finish and then he pedalled up really, really easy.”
The 2011 maillot vert champion Cavendish is currently fourth overall in the points classification behind Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo), Greipel (Lotto Soudal) and John Degenkolb (Giant-Alpecin).
Sagan’s looks almost certain to secure his fourth consecutive green jersey with seven days of racing remaining.
“If it turns out to be close in the end then he [Sagan] gets himself over two HC climbs and sprints for the intermediate – that’s how he can always put points in between him and Greipel,” Aldag said. “Andre obviously is having a brave fight about the green jersey but I think now it’s going to be super tough for him to get it back.”