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Mark Cavendish Survives Day of Tour Torment: ‘I was Seeing Stars’


Mark Cavendish Survives Day of Tour Torment: ‘I was Seeing Stars’

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RIMINI, Italy (Velo) – Stage one of the 2024 Tour de France was never going to be an easy one for Mark Cavendish, with over 3,600 meters of elevation and seven categorized climbs on a saw-blade route between Florence and Rimini.

But when the Astana Qazaqstan Team leader was dropped on the day’s very first climb, the Colle delle Faggi, vomited and fell five minutes behind the peloton, there was understandable fear of the worst.

The sport’s most prolific sprinter appeared to be in danger of missing the time cut or being forced to abandon before he could turn a pedal competitively in a bunch sprint, let alone finish a stage.

That, after his broken collarbone in Bordeaux on his first retirement Tour 12 months ago, this was going to be another fairytale story rapidly turned evil, another busted flush of a Tour. Surely not again?

However, you don’t win 34 stages in the Tour de France without having immense strength, resilience and experience, and Cavendish had to draw on all those qualities to get through the day and make sure he stays in the hunt for a record-making number 35.

As the stage progressed, Cavendish and his four Astana teammates Bol, Ballerini, Fedorov and Mørkov rode a steady pace, hoovering up a group with Jonas Rickaert (Alpecin-Deceuninck), plus Team DSM-Firmenich postNL pair Fabio Jakobsen and Bram Welten.

It was hot and hard going in the Emilia-Romagna hills, but it became clear that while Cavendish was losing time, it was not going to stop his Tour journey.

After 160 kilometers off the back of the race, he arrived in Rimini a shade over 39 minutes behind winner Romain Bardet, still shepherded the last meters into the team bus by trusty lead-out man Michael Mørkov. The big question was, was he suffering with an illness or from cauldron-like temperatures which touched over 97F?

“I think it was just the heat,” he told media outside his team bus after the finish. “It’s not easy. I always say: if you’ve got my body type now, don’t start cycling because them (sic) days have gone. But we know what we’re doing.”

“That was so hard, but we had a plan and we struck to it. I would have liked to stay one more climb with the peloton but I was seeing stars, it was so hot. But I’m glad we made it through ok, and on to stage two.”

Cavendish lives to fight another day and went into more detail on how he and his team-mates make calculations to ensure they aren’t going home, finishing behind the time cut.

“We don’t go easy to do that. You can work out what the front guys are gonna do,” he said. “And then you work out what you can do, what you need to do to get inside the time limit on each climb. It’s a bit boring, but that’s the way cycling’s gone. It makes a nice story if you’re close to the time gap, but the time limit isn’t really there to put people out of the race, it’s there when people are sick and injured, fair enough.”

“Keep scrapping, Mark!” shouted a British fan from the throng gathered around him as his interview wound down. That’s a certainty.

However, Cavendish was dealt a blow to his hopes for a bunch sprint stage win as teammate Michele Gazzoli abandoned, becoming the race’s first DNF. “I hope he’s all right,” he said of the young Italian. According to team manager Alexandre Vinokourov, the young Italian endured heatstroke in the sweltering conditions.

While it appeared that something might be remiss with Cavendish’s health, speaking to Velo, Vinokourov confirmed that Cavendish is “not sick. I knew it was going to be a tough stage for Mark to survive, not his kind of day. He calculated the watts and the distance, and we did everything as expected.”

The Tour’s first bunch sprint opportunity should come on stage 3 into Turin, but Sunday’s second day of the Tour is another one for gruppetto groveling for Cavendish and his fellow sprinters, with over 1,900 meters and two late ascensions of the San Luca before a finish in Bologna.

Does Vinokourov have any worries for Cavendish for tomorrow’s stage? “Tomorrow’s another day, we have to take it day by day. He has to recover today, we have already fixed our goal, our objective. and we work on that,” he said.

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