Explosive Cavendish finds edge in game of inches
Mark Cavendish took his second Tour de France stage victory in three days in thrilling fashion in Angers yesterday to confirm he is back to his very best.
The Manx Missile, who won Saturday's opening stage, required a photo finish to separate him from André Greipel (Lotto-Soudal) at the conclusion to stage three as he clinched his 28th Tour stage win, putting him level with the great Bernard Hinault in second place on the all-time list.
The margin of victory this time will not worry Cavendish in the slightest. His confidence is rising all the time and this was another beautifully executed win by Dimension Data, the African team Cavendish joined at the start of this season and who he credited afterwards with having given him "a new lease of life".
The team had given him "a cause to believe in; not just the pressure to win." Dimension Data promotes Qhubeka, a charity that provides bikes to children in Africa.
It was so close that Greipel initially celebrated as Cavendish stood with his support staff looking uncertain, before replays confirmed he had edged it. As on Saturday, when he claimed the yellow jersey for the first time in his career with his sprint victory at Utah Beach, he scooped up his children Delilah and Frey in his arms, celebrating with them on the podium. Bryan Coquard (Direct-Energie) and Peter Sagan (Tinkoff) were third and fourth with Marcel Kittel (Etixx-QuickStep), cycling's pre-eminent sprinter of the last few seasons, a distant seventh.
After drawing level with Hinault on the all-time list, only the great Eddy Merckx, with 34 stage victories, lies ahead.
"To be honest when I started my career to think I could be mentioned in the same sentence as Eddy Merckx or Bernard Hinault is more than I ever could have dreamed of," he said. "I don't look at the names, I just look at the numbers. If I win 50 then great. If this is my last ever win then so be it."
At this rate, he could win a few more in this race alone, beginning with today's fourth stage from Saumur to Limoges as the Tour continues to wend its way south.
"Actually I thought I would get around him easier than I did," the 31-year-old said of his photo finish with Greipel. "He's a gutsy rider. He's got balls on him. When I went to pass him I didn't really get him with the sprint, I got him with the lunge to the line."
The general classification was largely unchanged although Chris Froome moved up to fourth, 14 seconds behind leader Sagan. Dan Martin remains in 10th place while Sam Bennett, who appears to be recovering from his heavy crash on Saturday, came home two minutes behind Cavendish. (© Daily Telegraph, London)