Tour de France 2021 Stage 13: Cavendish wins! (and Merckx is on the comeback trail)

The town of Carcasonne brings to mind folklore, medieval fortification, and exquisite winding streets escarped with god-awful stalls selling tourist tat. It’s a famous old place, way down here in the south of France. History seeps from its every crevice.

Which makes it an appropriate place for Mark Cavendish, sprinter extraordinaire, to deliver his own chapter.

As of right now he is officially level with Eddy Merckx on thirty-four career Tour stage wins. Unquestionably even more the greatest sprinter in the history of cycling than he was this morning, last week, or last year, which on all three occasions was already very much so.

Asked how this made him feel, when plonked, still sweating, before the world’s media, he replied: “really, really tired.”

Too tired even for an F-bomb, apparently, which is very un-Cav. Perhaps his newly claimed status, this defining moment for which he’s waited so long (whatever he tells you) compelled him to clean up his loveable potty-mouth?

So at the limit” was how he described his day.

The peloton had baked under the Occitanie sun for two hundred and twenty lizard-hot kilometres. At that point, entering town, when ninety-five percent of the riders know their work is done for the day, his job requires a strenuous, laser-focused finish.

This is why he gets paid the big-bucks.

Through winding streets, into the final kilometre, it was classic Quickstep lead out. Two team-mates towing him along, the competition apparently fighting for scraps. But from there it got messy.

In the words of Eurosport’s Carlton Kirby Cav found “a hobo on his train,” as Nacer Bouhanni nudged our man from his teammate’s wheel and took up third position. From there, others began to swarm. Jasper Philipsen came up and around, Ivan Garcia Cortina clipped off the front for a cheeky punt, and Cav was making calculations.

That quick smart brain saw him weave left, around Bouhanni and back in the fight, and then boxed in, to dodge right, relocate the wheel of uber-team-mate Michael Morkov, negotiate a final left-hand bend, and then head down.

Boom!

The win was by a wheel from Morkov, and a bike length from Jasper Philipsen. The finish line roar was crisp and clear. Somewhere, Eddy Merckx sat in front of the telly with a bottle of Leffe and a big ol’ bowl of moules frites and exclaimed, Samuel L. Jackson style, “Mutha-FUCKER!”

For Merckx, the comeback is on.

Training starts Monday.

For Cav, there are chances to add to his tally. Could he really seal the deal a week on Sunday on the Champs Elysees? Or will that expletive-free tiredness, seeping from his every crevice like the history of Carcasonne, slow him down?

You just wouldn’t bet against him, would you?

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