Mark Cavendish was having Milan-San Remo flashbacks.
Before the brash sprinter from the Isle of Man won the hilly classic this year, the experts said he’d never get over the Cipressa and Poggio climbs. He proved them wrong and at just 24 years of age won the storied race they call La Primavera.
The profile for today’s 178km stage from Bourgoin-Jallieu to Aubenas looked distinctly San Remo — with the summit of a hard category 2 climb just 16 kilometers from the finish line. No doubt strong sprinters like Oscar Friere and Thor Hushovd and Tyler Farrar had their hopes high. Maybe, just maybe, the Manx Missile would never get to the launch pad.
Well, Hushovd may have locked up the green jersey but Cavendish now has his 5th win of this tour. “That will go down as the most memorable win of my career,” said Boy Racer. “It wasn’t a stage for me but I said to the guys just wait for me on the climb… I just hung in there, hung in there, hung in there. With 300 or 250 [metres] to go it was too far for me to go but I had to.”
Cavendish went early and Thushovd closed as Friere and Ciolek watched helplessly from behind. Most journalists already had their headlines written when the Manxman hit the line. Back slaps for everyone in the Columbia train and a another chapter for the sequel to the Boy Racer biography. The odds of Cavendish not winning the final stage on the Champs Elysees: a million to one.
It was an uneventful day for the yellow jersey contenders as they conserved precious energy for tomorrow’s dreaded climb up Mont Ventoux. The only news flash was four seconds long — the four that Lance Armstrong gained over podium rival Bradley Wiggins when the lead group split slightly. Note for tour riders: the Master never sleeps.
And when it comes to sprint stages, the Manxman never loses.