The South African WorldTour team led the final kilometres of the sprint stage into Nuits-Saint-Georges today as if they were riding for the sprint great. Instead, they pushed for Edvald Boasson Hagen who finished just three to five millimetres behind winner Marcel Kittel (Quick-Step Floors).
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“Last year we were very successful, this year, we lost ‘Cav’ so early in the race which is difficult, but that doesn’t mean we all go home with him together with him,” Serge Pauwels said “We are going to make the best of the remaining weeks.
“In a Grand Tour you should always expect the unexpected. For me and Steve Cummings, it doesn’t change much in our role because we are aiming for different stages than Cavendish was. It was just difficult to reset our morale, but I think that sooner or later we will get our reward.”
The Belgian who climbed his way to 13th in the 2015 Tour and won the Tour de Yorkshire this spring warmed down in front of the Dimension Data bus surrounded by curious spectators. Edvald Boasson Hagen and others looked at a photo-finish image on a smart phone.
“The team did good lead out and took me all the way to the line, right near the last metres, it was a pity that Kittel came just on the line, I was really close. It’s hard to tell even who won,” Boasson Hagen explained.
“Yes, absolutely [it shows the continued fighting spirit]. It’s a pity he’s out, but the team did really well and the lead-out worked out perfectly. We just have to keep going and do our best. The team showed we can do great lead outs. I’m thankful for that support.”
“We have to try,” Bernhard Eisel added. “We always say, we are racing for a greater cause, Qhubeka. Nobody felt great in the last days [after Cavendish left] and at the same time, we have something to focus on, that’s winning races, the more we win, the louder we get.”
The South African teams works with charity Qhubeka to give bikes to poor Africans in exchange for planting trees or collecting rubbish in their areas.
“They said goodbye to Mark, but they put it together the next day,” performance manager Rolf Aldag said. “Edvald was in the break and the next day, Edvald went for the sprint from 650 metres and today he sprints again.
“You have to see that we ride for Qhubeka, that drives the team on. We raised about 300 bikes with the yellow jersey from ‘Cav’ last year. If you think about 300 kids on bikes in Africa, that changes lives and that’s much more important who leaves or stays.”