British sprinter Mark Cavendish has won three stages of the 2016 Tour de France so far, and currently leads the points classification after stage nine. There’s a another opportunity for Cavendish to take a victory – and add to his 29 Tour stage wins – on Wednesday, as stage 11 of the Tour has a flat run-in to Montpellier.
Former British pro Barry Hoban won a sprint stage in the French city, and he thinks that Cavendish can do the same.
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“I think Mark has got a different sprint this year, and I reckon it could be because of all the training he’s done for the track,” says Barry Hoban, winner of eight stages in the Tour de France, including one to Montpellier in 1974, the year he also scored what is still the only British victory in Ghent-Wevelgem.
“In the last couple of years Mark has had a lead-out train, but when the last man peels off he’s tended to go backwards and get swamped. This year he hasn’t had a lead-out, but has picked the right wheels to follow, and he’s much more explosive.
“He’s just as fast, if not faster than he used to be. He looks back to his best, and I wonder if it’s because of his track ambitions for the Olympic Games. And he looks like he’ll go and win stages in future Tours now.
“I definitely think Mark can win in Montpellier on Wednesday. He has to watch out for splits because stages to Montpellier always get crosswinds, but Mark knows that because the stage split up the day he won there in 2013. Mark made sure he was with the front group, it was the same the day I won.
“Eddy Merckx and his Molteni team were great at forming echelons in crosswinds, and they did it that day, and it was split to smithereens. Coming into the last 10 kilometres I was looking, looking, looking for landmarks and trying to hold position, but not get blocked in.
“A Dutch guy, Piet Van Katwijk kept trying to come up into the wind and block me in. So I dropped back, bumped him with my shoulder, I said; ‘Piet, bloody hell, don’t bother me, don’t bother me.’ I must have bumped him about three times.
“Coming towards the finish I started to notice something. I’d always been an observant rider, and earlier that year I’d won a stage into Montpellier in the Midi Libre. So I thought; well, they normally use the same finish line for whatever race comes to a town, but you don’t know whether it will come in from the right or the left.
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“I remembered that there was some high-rise apartments, then straight after you passed them there was a corner to the left, and after that the finish. But suddenly I noticed the apartments were coming up before I thought I’d see them, I thought something’s wrong here.
“You have a road book on the Tour, and it describes the run in, and in this case it said there’s a final right hand corner, then it would be 300 metres to the finish line.
“Well, my mind mulled this over quickly, and I thought, it’s not 300 metres, we are coming in the other way. I don’t know if they changed the route mid-stage and had to divert.
If you want to read more about Barry Hoban’s pioneering career, his autobiography, Vas-y-Barry is available from www.chrissidwells.com by clicking the ‘book shop’ button.
“The finish was 100 metres after the corner, so I started sprinting. I went round that corner as fast as I could go round it, as fast as it was possible to go without crashing, and I came out well clear of everyone, and I won.
“Jacques Esclassan was second, and I think Patrick Sercu was third. All the other big sprinters were well behind us.”