Mark Cavendish has completed a hat-trick of Tour de France stage wins in Châteauroux, the town where he won his first ever stage at the race in 2008 and triumphed again in 2011, the year he won the green jersey for the one and only time in his career to date.
His victory, the 32nd of his career at the race, is his second this year and with five sprint stages left puts him within two of Eddy Merckx's all-time record, including time trials, of 34 stage wins.
Mathieu van der Poel of Alpecin-Fenix retains the overall lead.
Called up as a late replacement for the injured Sam Bennett, Cavendish’s win on Wednesday in Fougeres – another town where he had previously won a stage – was his first at the Tour de France in five years, crashing out in 2017, missing the time cut the following year, and not being selected for the past two editions as illness and injury took their toll.
His two victories this week demonstrate that he is back to his best, helped by a sprint train that includes world champion Julian Alaphilippe and which also, in Michael Mørkøv, has a leadout man at the top of his game.
In today’s finale, however, Cavendish jumped off the Dane’s wheel and got on that of Alpecin-Fenix sprinter Jasper Philipsen – second today – who himself was being led out by team mate Tim Merlier, winner in Pontivy on Tuesday. Arkea-Samsic’s Nacer Bouhanni was third.
It had been a frantic start to the 160.6km stage from Tours with the first half-hour raced at 50kph as Groupama-FDJ, riding for Arnaud Demare – who would lose his leadout man, Jacopo Guarnieri, to a crash 3.5km from the line – tried to reel in a very strong breakaway group that got away right from the start.
In that group were Lotto-Soudal’s Thomas De Gendt, Greg Van Avermaet of AG2R Citroen, Kasper Asgreen from Deceuninck-QuickStep, the Alpecin-Fenix rider Jonas Rickaert, Soren Kragh Andersen of Team DSM, Georg Zimmermann from Intermarche-Wanty Gobert, Trek-Segafredo’s Toms Skujins and Nils Politt of Bora-Hansgrohe.
It was too dangerous a group for the sprinters’ teams to let go, and was eventually reeled in, but not until after Van Avermaet got away, the Olympic champion in his distinctive gold helmet subsequently joined by Lotto-Soudal’s Roger Kluge.
Van Avermaet led Kluge over the line at the day’s intermediate sprint, and behind there was a hard fought battle for the remaining points on offer, Cavendish and Bouhanni going shoulder-to-shoulder as the Manxman tried to get on Mørkøv's wheel.
But it was Italian champion Sonny Colbrelli of Bahrain-Victorious who crossed the line first to take the maximum 15 points remaining for the peloton, Cavendish – who extends his lead at the top of the points classification following today’s victory – the fifth man across from the bunch to take 9 points.
Cavendish won’t entertain notions of the Merckx record being within reach, but others certainly are thinking it, and another win in Valence on Tuesday’s Stage 10 – or two days later in Nimes, another city he has previously taken a stage in – and it’s a question even he will be unable to ignore any more.
“Don’t say the name,” he said when a reporter tried to bring up the issue in the immediate post-stage interview.
“I am not thinking about anything. I just won a stage in the Tour de France. That’s what people work their whole lives for. I’m very, very happy. If I win another 50 more, I’m good enough to win 50. If I’m good enough to never win again here, so be it, I’m not good enough to win here. It’s the Tour de France.”
It almost passed unnoticed today (helpfully, Deceuninck-Quick Step highlighted it in their report) that Cavendish now stands at 50 Grand Tour stage wins, a total surpassed only by Merckx, with 64, and Mario Cipollini on 57, with 42 of the Italian's haul coming at the Giro d'Italia.
“The boys worked hard the entire day and did a phenomenal job, and I can’t be grateful enough to them for how much they buried themselves. The finale was full gas, reminiscent of the one 10 years ago, when we went so fast in the last 10 kilometres that almost I was at the limit.
The wind was coming from the right and I was on the left side, so I waited for a split second longer in the wheels before opening my sprint. To win again at the Tour, where there’s an incredible group of sprinters, is just beautiful and I am super happy.“
Namechecking each of his team-mates, he continued: “Tim [Declercq] was again formidable, keeping the stage under control, while Dries [Devenyns], Mattia [Cattaneo] and Kasper [Asgreen] made sure of bringing back the two strong escapees before Julian [Alaphilippe] put in another huge effort in the last couple of kilometres.
“All I had to do from then on was stay in the wheel of Ballero [Davide Ballerini] and Michael [Mørkøv], who remained cool as a cucumber, and do my sprint. I can’t tell you how thankful I am to this amazing group of guys. Tim asked me after the stage if I’m in the form of my life, but the truth is that I’m in the team of my life.”
Picture credit A.S.O./Charly Lopez
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Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.