They’re like buses. You wait five years for one and two appear at once. Mark Cavendish, the fastest man in the 2021 Tour de France, apparently. If you’re telling me you saw that coming eighteen months ago you’re lying.
Today’s sprint finish win, number thirty-two in his Tour tally, was completed in the town of Chateauroux. A wide boulevard drag strip at the end of a Loire-valley chateau-fest. Today was all classic architecture, massive fields, mid-harvest, and sweeping generic Frenchness.
It’s as if this Tour has been designed to conjure up nostalgia.
Into the final kilometre, it was like 2009 all over again. Cavendish, limpet-like on the back of a perfectly drilled lead out train, waited as his men peeled off to deliver their cargo.
Into the final couple of hundred, a classic Cav move: split second, he unhitched from his final teammate to latch onto the Alpecin Fenix train, followed for a second, swung right, and swept clear to win.
Perhaps we are seeing what we want to see because it’s Cav. But there’s a sense that after a few years of scruffy finishes and botched lead-outs the master has returned to show us that you can still make it click, if you follow the right wheels and make the right moves.
Sprinting almost looks straightforward again.
Chateauroux was the place of Tour stage number one for Cav back in 2008. And how convenient that the return here this year co-incides with the Lazarus-like renewal of the Manxman. It’s almost implausible. The coincidence and poignancy is almost too neat.
As if – could it be? – Cavendish is the unwitting star of his own Truman-show narrative. The sunflower fields and roadside accordion players are merely props, extras, and the Gallic backdrop collapses to be wheeled away once Cav passes by.
It’s that bit, post stage, that proves this is all real.Embed from Getty Images
The love for this race-winning boy-man could not be more genuine; from his teammates, fellow cyclists, journalists, TV people, and anyone else who happens to be wandering past. They all get a cuddle.
It’s buses again. Two number 43’s finally turn up after a forty-minute wait and the backslapping joy in that queue has been known to bring a tear to my eye on occasion.
And if a third one arrives?
Well, we’re in dreamland.
(Top Image: Mark Cavendish: Guillaume Horcajuelo/EPA – Fair Use)