Thirteen years ago he lit up the race as a mouthy kid to win career Tour de France stage number one. Now thirty-six, grizzled, lived in, came redemption. And when it happened it was everything we imagined it would be.
Five years after stage win number thirty Mark Cavendish took number thirty-one and The Wolfpack, Cavendish’s Deceuninck Quickstep Team, Alpha males to a man, melted.
Emotional.Embed from Getty Images
Our winner lay splayed across the Tarmac of Fougères, shoulders shaking, Oakley shades, lubed with tears and sliding from his face. Kasper Asgreen, Julian Alaphilippe, and Tim Declercq cued up for one of Cav’s legendary cuddles.
“Ohhhhh, I’ve been waiting for this…” Declercq may have said (my Belgian lip-reading is not great), while Alaphilippe sported the gleeful smile of a kid whose old fella has just won the dads race at sports day. Even hard-nosed boss-man Patrick Lefevere, rumour has it, was spotted flashing the briefest of smiles.
(Though the prospect of an improved negotiating position for Cav at the contractual table quickly saw to that.)
Even the one hundred and fifty kilometre run in to our drag-strip sprint finish played out exactly as we would have wished. After the crash-strewn horrors of Stage 3 we had a quiet, formulaic day, a generic breakaway, a calm peloton, and the minimum of fuss.
The only complication was the persistence of sole remaining breaker Brent van Moer, who held on gloriously until the final thirty metres. A last-minute swerve around him saw Cavendish head-to-head with Nacer Bouhanni and Jasper Philipsen to the line. From there, he willed himself to cross for the win.
Back in the Cavendish glory years this was how it worked. A slick lead out, a spot of wheel surfing, one or two intuitive flick-of-the-wrist moves and he’s in clear air. From there, curved low across his handlebars, Cav wins.
It really was like old times.
Right down to the post-race interview, stumbling for words, moist eyed, eulogising his team mates, throwing in an occasional, accidental ‘fuck’.
It’s so good to have him back.