Back in his pomp (the old pomp, before this current, late career pomp), Mark Cavendish was known for his lead-out train. For a few years, particularly at team HTC Columbia, Cav and his string of canny, muscular teammates were unbeatable.
And then the lead-out train fell out of fashion. Major bunch sprints became messy. Without a single dominant train several teams rocked up with a workable version, lacking the required incision, which created a mass of evenly matched riders clogging the finish straight.
Sprinters went freelance. Flicking from wheel to wheel. Hitching onto other trains. Peter Sagan made a career (and still does) out of surfing the wheels. This became the new norm.
Occasionally a team would click, and lead out their sprinter old-skool, but this was the exception. And now Mark Cavendish and his Deceuninck Quickstep team have resurrected the lost art, right here in 2021, and we all remember how well-oiled it used to be.Embed from Getty Images
Into the wide boulevard Stage 10 finish at Valence today, after a stressful and cross-wind battered run-in, the Belgium super-team and their precious British cargo rattled into town like a TGV.
Ladies and gentleman the buffet car is now closed, they announced, as we approach our destination please grab the fuck hold of something and hang on!
Deep into the final two kilometres, with world champ Julian Alaphilippe on the front, they were still five-strong. Team DSM, in the service of their man Cees Bol, made a fist of getting organised, but the rest already appeared ragged. Every-man-for-himself.
It is definitely way more difficult that Quickstep made it look today, but they made it look an absolute doddle.
Alaphilippe peels off, Cattaneo, next in line, takes a turn, then Ballerini…actually, you know what lads, said Cav, there are still two of you left but I can already see the finish line just there so I’m just going to to crack on and sprint for it. Cheers!
He launched left, Wout van Aert followed his wheel, Jasper Philipsen sprinted right, but Cavendish was clear. Just too clinical. Squint, and imagine Mark Renshaw and Bernie Eisel watching on, and this could almost be 2009.
Not easy. Not straightforward. None of those things. But controlled, clinical, beautifully choreographed, and from where I was sitting barely in doubt.
We are witnessing the absolutely remarkable renaissance of Mark Cavendish. The greatest sprinter of all time before this Tour de France. All this is icing, cherries, sparklers…a total extravagance of decadence atop an already luxurious cake.
Tour Stage win number thirty-three puts him one short of the Eddy Merckx record that Bradley Wiggins, Cav himself, and others in the inner circle have been berating the media for daring to mention.
What happens if he wins Stage 12, the next potential sprint stage?
Can we talk about it then?
Because right now, that record is ON!
(Top Image: via piqsels)