When Cav announced this was his last season, during the Giro, it was meant to end in glory with that record breaking 35th Tour de France stage. It almost did, but Eddy Merckx’s voodoo dolls were working overtime.
An awful 24 hours that almost saw the record go, then saw Cav go from the Tour, couldn’t have gone much worse for the Manxman. Stage 7 and 8 of the 2023 Tour de France will live long in Tour history.
It was looking a bit like the Giro with Cav’s final Tour. He was there and there abouts come the final sprint, getting closer each time, without troubling the podium. Though this race he didn’t cross the line on his arse.
He couldn’t get much closer than stage 7. It was his, the stage, the record.
And then as he was flying past everyone, it wasn’t his. As he jerked and sat down, stood up, jerked and sat down, he looked to his left, saw Philipsen go by and his head dropped. When Cav was going for the win he didn’t look around to see what anyone else was doing, something wasn’t right.
And we found out later that while he was producing the fastest speed in the sprint, like he had done earlier in the race, his gears were having a hissy fit and not playing ball. Denied by something completely out of his control, you could see the sadness on his face in the post stage interviews.
But it showed, he was there, he was competitive, he wasn’t an also-ran on a final procession through France. He was flying past all the big sprinters there, including the big one who had now won the first three sprint stages.
Which in a way made what happened the following day even worse.
Knocking on for 170 riders in that peloton, going not very fast, uphill, one touch of wheels a ripple effect but everything seems OK but no one rider, just one out of all that number is on the floor and doesn’t look like he’s getting up very soon.
Cav was holding his shoulder, the shoulder he’d had previous surgery on. His teammate was telling him to stay down and not try to get up. It wasn’t long until the pictures of him sitting in the ambulance as race radio announced it was over.
Not the way anyone wanted it to finish and as I said made even worse by the fact that he was in the competition. He wasn’t an onlooker at the sprints. If he’d been miles behind, competing only for a top 10 finish, then he could go home knowing he tried but it was never gonna happen. But with that second place and the speed he managed in a couple of those sprints he knows, it could have, should have been his.
Yes, it was a broken collar bone which had also aggravated that previous injury, from the 2017 Tour, apparently dislodging a screw. The look of shock on his face as he sat in that ambulance. A sad sight.
But is it the end? His team boss, Alexander Vinokourov, has said that Astana-Qazaqstan want Cav to go to the Tour next year and get that 35th stage victory. It’s all up to Cav. When he announced his retirement in the Giro, even knowing what can happen in a race like this, he wouldn’t have envisioned going out like this.
If it is the end, no matter how sad an ending, it won’t overshadow the fact that he holds the record, that he holds the record for most road stages and that not only was he the greatest sprinter of his generation… or even time in racing… because his time seemed to cover many generations, but the greatest of all time.
Pogacar joking said “I’m coming for you Mark”, after winning his 10th stage victory on stage 6. Now if anyone could, well. But can you see anyone coming close, because when you take out Cav, Merckx and the Badger nobody is coming close to 34 and the only one currently riding that’s in the top 25 is Peter Sagan with 12, and you can’t see him getting another one at the moment. And he’s only one of 3 riders in that 25 who were riding in the era of Cav.
We’ll just have to see if Cav will want to slog his guts out over those big climbs to get that sole record…