Mark Cavendish made a great return to the Tour de France, Valence. He defeated Wout Van Aert, Belgian national champion, to win the 33rd stage. He is now just one step away from equaling the record set by Eddy Merckx who was overall Tour winner five years ago.
Cavendish was happy to be at home after a hard weekend of Alpine racing. Cavendish was once again exemplary in his lead-out, with six of his Deceuninck Quick-Step colleagues pushing hard towards the finish to create another irresistible sprint. This set the stage for even more joyous celebrations.
Cavendish praised his recent successes, saying that “the reception has been amazing.” It has touched me deeply. It’s evident in the French people. They’ve been exceptional and the support has been amazing from around the globe. It truly makes it worth it. He said that he hoped people could be inspired and find hope when things seem hopeless.
Cavendish acknowledged that he was skeptical about his return after he started the Tour’s first stage through Brittany. “The speed they were going, I thought: “What have I wished to here?”
He said, “But you just get in it”. “Every year, you forget. You go to Paris every year and you think, “That was the worst thing I have ever done”. Then, by Tuesday, it’s back around.
The transitional stage from the Alps into the Rhone was flat and suited the sprinter who had already won two stages this year in Fougeres, Chateauroux. His form looked so bad at one point that it seemed absurd to return to the Tour. It seems to be inspired, now that he has won three times in 10 stages.
“I have always been professional. I do my training and I do my job. I am ready to race if I have to. That’s what I did this year. Although it sounds unromantic, I knew that I was physically capable.
“I had done the training and was able to get over the mountains. I could be competitive”. This was the first time that I had no excuses. Cavendish squints when the Merckx record is mentioned, but there’s no getting around it. The 36-year-old Cavendish has the potential to win four sprint finishes, including the most prestigious on the Champs-Elysees, Paris.
One thing is certain: Cavendish won’t equal Merckx on Wednesday. All eyes will be on the double ascent Mont Ventoux on the 11-kilometer long stage from Malaucene to Sorgues. If Tadej Pogacar, of the UAE Emirates team, reproduces the climbing form that made him a mere second-rate climber in the Alps, the stage will pass over the Provencal mountain. This could prove decisive.
After the Valence finish, Pogacar was questioned about his dominance. He was also asked if his power output files would be made available.
“Yesterday, these were the questions I was asked and I answered them. He said that he didn’t know how to prove his innocence because of the skepticism directed at him. “After the crashes over the first few days the field wasn’t at the level it was supposed to be. It was great for me that I didn’t have to be involved in any crashes.
“Open my files?” Although I would love to do so, the truth is that everyone can see your files and use it against you in the race. But I can assure you that I have good watts. That’s why I am the first.