Cavendish: Our backs are against the wall
Briton vows to keep trying.
Mark Cavendish was left to wonder if he still had the power to keep up with his rivals after Dutchman Dylan Groenewegen won stage seven of the Tour de France in Chartres.
This was the fourth sprint stage of this year’s Tour, and the fourth in which Cavendish failed to feature, rolling home to a 10th place which is his best of the race so far.
A slight brush against Alexander Kristoff saw him sit up with a couple of hundred metres to go, but by then Groenewegen had already gone as the LottoNL-Jumbo rider led home Quick-Step Floors’ Fernando Gaviria and world champion Peter Sagan of Bora-Hansgrohe.
“I was following quite good wheels but it was choppy. I was picking wheels and seemed to be in a good position,” Cavendish said.
“But when I went to go, Quick-Step and Bora have just got a different kind of level of top speed. I thought when I first kicked I was floating, I was quite excited. I kicked. Actually I’ve looked at my power and it’s pretty good, but I’m not going to match them.
“I had a little coming together with Alex at the end, it might’ve been my fault but it just stopped me dead.”
Cavendish has 30 career Tour stage wins, four shy of Eddy Merckx’s record, but it is now three days shy of two years since his last.
He could be forgiven that wait as his 2017 Tour was ended by a crash with Sagan only four days in, but it has not gone unnoticed.
“I just keep trying, our backs are against the wall all the time here,” said the 33-year-old, who is in a contract year but is expected to stay with Dimension Data.
“It’s not going to be easy to win here but we keep trying.”
At 231 kilometres, this was the longest stage of this year’s race, and one to reopen the debate over the relevance of flat transition days in the modern Tour.
Ambling along for just shy of six hours, the riders tackled the bulk of it at such a serene pace it might have been mistaken for the first rest day.
“It was very boring,” said Sagan. “But we made some new friends out there.”
Things came to life in the final 10 kilometres as Chartres’ Notre-Dame Cathedral slid into view, with teams fighting for position at the front.
Everything seemed set up for Cavendish as Dimension Data sat on the front of a peloton which was strung out after a double right-hander two kilometres from the finish, but after trying to grab Groenewegen’s wheel, Cavendish brushed past Kristoff before sitting up.
Groenewegen had no such problems as he showed impressive power to burst clear of Gaviria and Sagan, who have two wins each in this Tour already after dominating the early sprint battles.
It was a first stage win of this Tour for Groenewegen and the second of his career after victory on the final day in Paris last year.
“It was a hard one,” the 25-year-old said of the rise to the line. “I was looking for the finish line and I don’t see it. Then after a corner I saw it with 200m to go. I was going from a good position and the legs were good so it was a perfect day.”
The general classification contenders all crossed the line safely in the main group, but BMC’s Greg Van Avermaet doubled his slender advantage in yellow to six seconds by winning the bonus sprint 31km from home.
Team Sky’s Geraint Thomas remains second, with Van Avermaet’s team-mate Tejay Van Garderen third, now eight seconds back.
Mitchelton-Scott’s Adam Yates and Sky’s Chris Froome remain 13th and 14th, with their deficit to yellow growing slightly to 65 seconds.
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