The mood by the Astana Qazaqstan team bus on Saturday was solemn. As the riders slowly returned from the finish line in Limoges, beads of sweat rolling down their faces, barely a word was shared. The race had been a disaster.
With 63km to go, the team’s talisman Mark Cavendish crashed in the bunch. Everyone around him stood up, brushed themselves off and darted to rejoin the peloton. He stayed on the ground.
The medical report laid it bare. “Trauma to the right shoulder, with uncertainty of a collarbone fracture,” it read. The Brit’s Tour de France - the final one of his career - was cruelly cut short, and the dream of a record-breaking stage win fizzled out.
“It’s a really sad day for us,” a downcast Gianni Moscon told the media, including Cycling Weekly, after the stage. “[The crash] was quite bad. I stayed with him to see how he was, but it was clear that he wasn’t able to keep going.
“He was suffering. There wasn’t much to say. I tried to see how it was and if I could help him go back to the race, but he had to abandon.”
The crushing blow of stage eight came just 24 hours after a hope-filled stage seven, when Cavendish rushed to second in Bordeaux, narrowly missing out on the victory. The prospect of a win looked possible, imminent some thought. Now, the sprinter’s final result at the race will read DNF.
Addressing the media from his turbo trainer, David de la Cruz called Cavendish’s abandon “a terrible loss” for Astana Qazaqstan. “Mark is one of the most charismatic riders I’ve ever met,” he said, spinning his legs slowly. “He’s been giving a lot of good energy to the team. He always brings a good mood to the team.”
Like Moscon, De la Cruz was at Cavendish’s side when he hit the asphalt. “We were going uphill at quite a steady tempo,” the Spaniard said. “It was just a crash between a few riders. They touched each other and they couldn’t react. Mark just fell in a bad position, with the collarbone. That’s it.
“From the beginning of the Tour, we knew it was possible for Mark to get his 35th victory. After his performance yesterday, we believed in him even more. We were really confident for the following stages. We really believed it was possible to get that victory.”
With his sunglasses pushed up on top of his head, Mark Renshaw emerged from the Astana Qazaqstan bus red-eyed. “I won’t lie, I cried,” he said.
“It hurts more than yesterday and I didn’t think that was really going to be possible. To finish second yesterday and then today, to have this happen to Mark, it’s hard. We all know his shape is there, he’s there for the win, he has the legs.”
Renshaw, Cavendish’s former lead-out man, is at this year’s Tour de France as a sprint consultant for the Kazakh squad. His task was simple - help deliver his old teammate to victory and write history with the team. The project has now come to an abrupt end.
“I don’t want to say too much for him, but I imagine he’s really disappointed,” the Australian said of Cavendish. “Who would have thought in January that he’d be here, coming second in the Tour de France, and the next day crashing?”
Astana Qazaqstan will now continue this year’s race with six riders, having also lost Luis León Sánchez on stage five, victim of a broken collarbone. Without their two most experienced riders, the balance in the team will shift, but their goal remains the same.
“All the guys here still have a job to do,” Renshaw said. “They will stay super focused, and will try honour Cav with a victory.”
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