No fairytale ending for Mark Cavendish this time

Mark Cavendish and the Tour de France

but it leaves an opening for a sequel. Mark Cavendish might not have managed to break Eddy Merckx’s stage wins record but it shouldn’t detract from the you couldn’t have written it return to the greatest race, for it’s greatest sprinter.

I mean what a way that would have been to take the stage victories record, that he currently shares with Merckx, outright. In green, in Paris, in front of the world. Surely it was meant to be?

But Cav’s scriptwriter abandoned him a bit in two of the final three stages of this year’s Tour de France, stage 19 should have been a sprint but it didn’t turn out that way, while he was third in the final stage on the Champs-Elysees, the sprinter’s World Championship, where’s he’s won four times previously.

Boxed in behind the winner Wout van Aert, with second placed Jasper Philipsen to his right and the barriers to his left, by the time van Aert opened a gap between him and the barrier the race was over and Cav couldn’t get past. He blamed himself after, saying he should have stayed on the wheel of his lead out man, Mørkøv. Though can you blame for finding van Aert’s?

It shouldn’t overshadow what had come earlier though. From nowhere just months previously. From not having a Grand Tuor stage win in five years, hell without a win of any kind in 3 years, not being at the last two tours. From not having even having a team. Here he was crossing the line for his first Grand Tour finish in five years, wearing the Green Jersey, winning the points classification for the second time, with four stage wins and the joint record for TdF stage wins at 34.

Through crashes and injury. Through and illness and dark times, talk of it being his last race in 2020. He said though he wasn’t thinking of quitting, he loves racing and just wants to keep riding his bike.

All it needed was to get healthy, get over the effects of the Epstein-Barr virus he’d suffered from and get a team that trusted him, worked for him and showed him the love he needs.

He got that with Deceuninck-QuickStep but even with rejoining them he wasn’t going the Tour until Bennett withdrew and a week before the first stage he was back on the biggest stage.

In a Tour of chaos yes the number of sprinters reduced seemingly day by day but on the first real sprint day at the first intermediate sprint, Cav was brought up by Mørkøv and has the Manx Missile was cruising across the line, looking around to see where his competition were, they were heads down busting a gut to finish runner up.

Battling over those climbs of the Alps and Pyrenees, just making time cuts. Coming in with his protective bubble of blue jerseys he competed in five sprint stages, winning four and finally allowing people to say the M word. Merckx. As he drew level with the Cannibal atop the list of Tour de France stage winners.

“The new Merckx” the theme of this tour – apart from tears and breakaways – was the man who beat Cav in that final sprint, van Aert, achieved something in doing so that not many have done before. Winning a mountain stage, time trial and sprint stage. The last to do it was Hinault in ’79 and before that it was Merckx. So caparison was drawn between the two Belgians. But this dismissed by the younger of the pair – as it was by Cav as well. van Aert hasn’t won a Tour, never mind five. While the man who won the Yellow Jersey, for the second time was rolling in the comparison were being made, even by Merckx himself. Saying Tadej Pogacar could break Merckx’s record of five Tour wins. Well, the young Slovenian already has two at 22 years of age, two years younger than Merckx when he won his first. And the winning margin of over 5 minutes felt more like the Merckx era than the more recent Tours.

Who or what can stop Pogacar?

Well it’s interesting that, yes he didn’t have to bust a gut or really go for it, but he came a lot lower down in the final time trial which was in hot weather, while yes taking the two mountain top finish victories in the final week, he looked a lot better in the cold weather and last year’s victory was in September, not the sun of July.

A bit of straw clutching.

I know a number of his competitors were under par due to the chaos and crashes of the first week. He was head and shoulders above what remained of the GC pack. Second placed Vingegaard looked good but how many times have we seen a rider start out at a race as a domestique do well after their leader falls away, only for them not to live up to it when they’re brought in as leader?

While Ineos’s four man attack disappeared in the crashes. Yes Carapaz finished third but that was his level on this Tour. Everything he did, he finished third. Whether attacking, bluffing or TTing. He came in behind Pogacar and Vingegaard.

It’s funny that a place on the podium is seen as a great failure for Ineos. And in a way will be seen as a poor season for them even though before this race they’d won the Giro (Bernal), Tour de Romandie (Thomas), Critérium du Dauphiné (Porte), Tour de Suisse (Carapaz). Not exactly a bad year in anyone’s books but the Tour is somewhat the be all and end all. Can they turn it around after two years in the Tour wilderness? For all the talk of a new direction for the team there seemed to be very little if no direction at all.

They have two Giro’s since the last Tour victory, will the return of Bernal be the answer? Someone has recently shown you can’t right anyone off but what about Chris Froome? It was a bit heartbreaking watching him slip back out of the peloton very early on climbs and come in 123rd – out of 142 riders – in the trime trial. But he made it, all the way, he finished, while others would have and did pack it in. Even after his first week crash that saw him on the ground, looking like he wasn’t getting up he fought on and well, when you look at where he was it was even worse than Cav.

Cav, he’s not signed up with anyone for next year but who wouldn’t want him? He’s got that record to go for, he brings in exposure for the team sponsors, when signing with Deceuninck-QuickStep he brought his own salary. What would he give to stay with the “Wolfpack”? Behind the best sprint train in the business, in the shelter behind the huge shoulders of the likes of Tim Declercq, with the best lead out man in the business, Mørkøv, while Julian Alaphilippe shuts down breakaways, or reels them in powering the front of the peloton or is going back for bottles and food, all while wearing the rainbow bands of the World Champion.

And no one is gonna write Cav off again, not after this… and the story isn’t finished…

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