Mark Cavendish (Etixx - Quick-Step) looked a relieved man after taking victory on stage seven of the Tour de France on Friday, having not secured a win in the race since stage 13 of the 2013 race, with mounting pressure to show he still had what it took to beat his rival sprinters.
Cavendish counts 26 stage wins in the Tour de France, second behind only greats Bernard Hinault and Eddy Merckx. He has wins in the Giro d'Italia and Vuelta a España, and in one-day races ranging from the world championships to Milan-San Remo. Expectations were high for a win in this Tour.
However, he botched his first two opportunities: in Zélande on day two and again on day five to Amiens. Both times, he went early due to necessity or an error with the lead out. On Friday in Fougères, he timed it right and succeeded when the pressure appeared at its highest.
"Every time it's the same with him, the pressure builds up and up, the longer it takes, and we can count the stages it took and the chances we had..." the team's sport and development manager, Rolf Aldag told Cycling Weekly. "At the end of the day, it makes the victory even better."
The German leaned against the team car outside the bus where Cavendish prepared ahead of stage eight. He knows Cavendish well as the two worked together from the start in T-Mobile, which then became Highroad. In those years, he scored five and sometimes six stage wins in each year.
"At the end of the day, it makes the victory even better. If you go there and win right away, the pressure is off, but it also makes it more exciting if you feel people giving up on you and writing you off, and then you come back and prove it the way he did it yesterday."
The last time Cavendish won was two years ago on the 13th stage of the 2013 Tour de France. Last year, he crashed in Harrogate on the opening day of the Tour.
"If you win 25, you've shown every year that if you are there then you win something, of course you don't want to have 2015 the year where you don't win anything," added Aldag.
"That's crystal clear, especially if you work for it. It would have been completely against his nature and our nature to say, 'It's OK not to win here at the Tour."
"To get one every year is a big, big thing," added Cavendish. "It's been the longest run without a win for me in the Tour de France. It's been two years now. To get back to winning ways is certainly nice."
His winning way could not last long as the next sprint stage may not be until Paris on July 26. The race enters the high mountains after this weekend, with only two days in that run that might end in a sprint or, and most likely, in an escape's victory. With so few chances, Cavendish secured his win at an opportune time in a high-pressure Tour de France.
Tour de France 2015 stage seven highlights
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