Brains not brawn required to beat Cavendish

Hands-on treatment doesn't deter Columbia sprinter

Columbia racer Mark Cavendish of Great Britain celebrates as he crosses the finish line on July 5, 2009, the 182km second stage of the Tour de France between Monaco and Brignoles.

Can Mark Cavendish blame his opponents for resorting to physical violence in their ever more desperate efforts to beat him?


That’s what Cavendish did Sunday evening, alleging that the Skil Shimano rider Kenny Van Hummel had “hit” him in the final two kilometres of the second stage of the Tour to Brignoles July 5, which Cav won by four or so bike lengths over the American Tyler Farrar.

Only one problem: the real miscreant was Van Hummel’s team-mate Piet Rooijakkers. A Skil Shimano spokesperson explained tonight that Rooijakkers had indeed whacked Cav, though only in response to the Manxman yanking his jersey when another rider, the Frenchman Lloyd Mondory, pushed Rooijakkers into the Columbia HTC train. Forward this YouTube clip 4:16 seconds, watch Cavendish’s left arm shoot sideways, followed by Rooijakkers’s retaliation, then make up your own minds.

Sunday’s conclusion is that Cav’s rivals need to show more imagination than they did today if he’s not going to swagger away from this Tour with an even bigger hatful of wins than the one he took home last year. Imagination? You bet, because they’ve got no chance if they rely on speed alone. Last year Cav won the last of his four stages by a four bike-length abyss; twelve months on, he claims that he’s maybe lost speed but widened his repertoire. He could have fooled us, because today’s victory was even more emphatic than his cake-walk in Nîmes on stage 13 in 2008.

Put simply, over the next, mostly flat few stages, every team with designs on a stage win needs to dust off the scattergun and start firing men down the road. They need to attack at the start of stages, in the middle, at the end. They must make Columbia-HTC sweat and toil into submission. They will not beat Cavendish in a bunch sprint by ordinary means.

The only person who seems capable of stopping Cavendish at the moment is himself, and even that doesn’t look likely. The Manxman can be moody in front of a microphone, but, for now, his ego is still an ally rather than an enemy. Should he even have raised the Van Hummel/Roijmakkers incident in front of the press? Only if his intention was to point out a genuinely dangerous manoeuvre. Or if, an hour after he crossed the line, his anger still hadn’t subsided. Not if he was trying to shame or patronize a less talented rider than himself.

For now all we and his opponents can do is swoon. He hasn’t lost a Tour de France sprint since 2007. Only two have eluded him in the whole of 2009. Not even Mario Cipollini or Alessandro Petacchi was this dominant in their pomp.

And worst news of all for every sprinter not named Mark Cavendish is that the best could be yet to come.


Follow Friebe’s Twittering here everyday during the Tour and thereafter.