It is almost like a fairy-tale. The comeback of Mark Cavendish, the Manx Missile is quite magical. As a dominant force in pro-cycling, the entry of the ‘Veteran Pro’ Cavendish into the 2021 Tour de France was a ‘last minute’ decision as a fill-in for Sam Bennet. Against the Aussie sprint stars Caleb Ewen and Michael Matthews as well as Peter Sagan and veteran Andre Greipel, the British sprint-finish specialist was a wild card. Sure, Cavendish had recorded success in the ‘minor’ Tour of Turkey this year. But against the young-guns it would seem that Cavendish would face an uphill battle.
On Stage 13 of the 2021 Tour de France from Nîmes to Carcassonne, the peloton faced a 220 kilometer route which was windy but dry. A crash in the final 50 kilometres rattled a few of the riders and saw Simon Yates and Lucas Hamilton of Team Bike Exchange abandon the tour. The 2021 tour has been unlucky, Australian Caleb Ewan of Lotto Soudal crashed in an early stage and pulled out while Team BORA – hansgrohe sprinter Peter Sagan never really got his mojo back and abandoned citing knee troubles.
Even though Tim Declerc of Deceuninck QuickStep was caught up and shaken by the crash in Stage 13, the team challenged all serious attackers and were able to set-up their effective lead-out train. Davide Ballerini and then Michael Mørkøv pushed the pace into the sprint finish in textbook form. Even as the other teams sought to challenge, Mark Cavendish was able to deliver his fourth 2021 Tour de France stage win in Carcassonne and simultaneously entered himself into the history books by equalling the 34 Tour de France stage wins of cycling icon Eddy Merckx.
There are a few sprint finishes still left in the Tour this year… and the potential for more history.
Merckx was a different type of rider to Cavendish so it is tough to make comparison between the two. And cycle sport in the 1960s and 70s was a different beast, Merckx was tied up in a few doping incidents while Cavendish has faced scrutiny for his strong personality and arrogance. In 2021, Cavendish has returned to the spotlight at the Tour de France as a more humble character, thankful for the work of his team mates and more thoughtful in his words.
In the 2021 Tour de France, Cavendish has a clear lead in the green points jersey (279 points) against Michael Matthews (178 points). But anything can happen. With the high profile crashes and departures of star sprinters and GC contenders like Primož Roglič… who lost last years tour by just a hair, it has been a turbulent tour. Team INEOS Grenadier is not as dominant as anticipated, Geraint Thomas and Ritchie Port were caught in crashes which have clearly impacted their performance and GC aspirations, though Ecuadorian team mate Richard Carapaz remains within reach if Tadej Podacar falters.
It will be hard to challenge Team UAE and their 2020 Tour de Francewinner Tadej Pogacar. The nearest contender, Rigiberto Uran of EF Education Nippo is 5′ 18″ down. But moving into the hills anything can happen and we hope that it does.
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