The art of losing, by M. Cavendish

And how not to fill up your car

So Mark Cavendish doesn't like losing. Who'd have guessed it, eh?

Er, anyone who's seen the same dark expression and pursed lips that Cavendish wore this evening in Trieste before. That would be on one of the other rare occasions that the Manxman has lost a sprint over the past eighteen months.

"I just love seeing this," chortled Columbia-Highroad chief Bob Stapleton as he sat at the back of Cavendish's press conference, watching his prodigy seethe. "This is why he's so special: he hates losing so much."

Stapleton then issued a warning inaudible to the three dozen or so reporters hanging on Cavendish's every, self-loathing monosyllable. "There are climbs near the finish tomorrow, but how many times does he lose back to back? You can bet your life that he'll do everything to be there tomorrow."

Cavendish's verdict was that he'd been "lazy" and "complacent". Two adjectives that the Manxman can't abide. Call him a "dickhead" as Cavendish himself did in reference to his furious rant at Marco Pinotti as they crossed the line yesterday (Pinotti: "I just didn't risk enough on the last corner...and Mark's reaction was just due to the tension of the race") but don't ever suggest that he's a slacker. Ever. Only Cavendish is allowed to beat himself with that stick.

From where I was watching (on the TV screen in the pressroom), it looked as though Columbia suffered from the lack of a rival sprint train. Edvald Boasson Hagen led into the final kilometre but was flagging by the time that Mark Renshaw took over in the last 700 metres. Usually, another team would have given Cavendish a target and a wheel as that deceleration took place – but today, by accident or design, there was no-one.

Filippo Pozzato told me recently that he thinks Cavendish is at his most dangerous when the speed drops for a split second in the final kilometre. That's exactly what happened today and it seemed to do Cav no favours at all.

Here's what Cavendish's Columbia-Highroad boss Rolf Aldag had to say:

"Edvald [Boasson Hagen] had to stay on the front for too long. That meant he died and Renshaw had to start Cav's lead-out too quickly. It then becomes much easier for people to come off Cav's wheel and surprise him. Cav did well just to catch Petacchi's wheel, because Petacchi was super strong today.

"Had we not been thinking about defending the jersey as well, we might have come to the front a little later, but that was a concern throughout the stage and particularly on the climb near the end. On Monday, we'll have to make a decision about whether to do the same again or concentrate solely on the stage win. It might suit us if someone who's perhaps a minute down goes away on the climbs near the finish. That's something we'll talk about and a decision we'll make tomorrow morning."

While Cavendish fumed and plotted his revenge, his compatriot Ben Swift was rejoicing in his usual, understated manner at a third place which will have surprised everyone but those who have followed the Rotherham youngster this season. Swift joined the pro ranks with a reputation as a fast-finishing, competent-climbing all-rounder, but has since taken on and beaten some of the quickest riders in the world in bunch gallops.

On Sunday night even he admitted that he was starting to re-evaluate the way he categorises himself as a rider. "It's funny, because I'm working on my sprinting but I'm working a lot on my climbing as well," Swift told me.

And exactly what form does that sprint training take? "Oh, I often do five 30-second sprints, with a minute's rest in between, at the start and end of sessions," he explained. "Sometimes, between what I do at the start, in the middle and at the end of training rides, I'm doing fifteen sprints."

Swift reckons that tomorrow's stage to Valdobbiadene (which, in case, you're interested, is where I once spent the worst month of my life, bottling wine - but you're not) might suit him even better. While my euros for a Katusha stage win would still be on Pozzato, it'll be intriguing to see whether one or both of the British boy racers, Cavendish or Swift, manages to improve on today's contrasting performances.

Oh, and finally, I couldn't possibly end today's blog without humiliating my travelling companion Andrew Hood of "rival" publication Velonews at least as much as he humiliated himself earlier on today. Just tell me, readers – or rather remind Andy – what's the golden rule of the refuelling a hire car? Check whether it takes diesel or petrol, right? Right – as right as Andy got it heinously wrong en route to Trieste today. "Er dude, I've just filled the freaking car with petrol...and it's a diesel."

Thank God for Andy and his readers' sake that he shows a little more wherewithal when he's in front of a laptop.

We finally made it to Trieste thanks to the kind local gentleman pictured with Hoody below. Apparently we're not the only idiots; he was called out by the same garage to perform exactly the same, er, homologous transfusion on Saturday. 15 minutes and an extremely reasonable 50 euro transaction later and we were on our way in time to catch the stage finish. And when we got there, Hood looked only marginally less flustered and embarrassed than a certain, pink-jerseyed young gentleman would a couple of hours later.

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