Yesterday we wondered why T-Mobile hadn’t made a more concerted effort to put Mark Cavendish back into contention after “Cannonball’s” crash on stage one from London to Canterbury. Team boss Bob Stapleton’s response last night was that the peloton was simply moving too fast for Cavendish to recoup the time – some said five minutes – that he’d lost.
This morning in Gent I went looking for a second opinion. Here’s what directeur sportif Valerio Piva had to say:
Bikeradar:One or two people in the press room, including me, thought yesterday that you could have sent a few more men back to help Mark back to the bunch when he fell. What’s your reaction?
Valerio Piva:Twenty kilometres from the finish in the Tour de France, even if you stop half the team, it’s difficult to bring a rider back. We were just surprised by the commissaries decision to impose a barrage on Mark. Normally, when a rider falls, he can draft behind the team cars, but yesterday the jury decided to stop the number two cars from overtaking Mark, to stop him moving up in their slipstream. We had told Axel Merckx and Bert Grabsch to go to the back of the peloton to wait for Mark, but with the barrage in place, Mark couldn’t get close enough to make it worth their while to drop back all the way. To get him back into the bunch, we would have needed to take four riders out of the race.
Bikeradar: So Grabsch and Merckx are currently the closest thing you have to domestiques in a scenario like that one?
VP: They’re the two who, on stages like this, can help out. Axel’s not quick and he’s not going to start mixing it in bunch sprints. He’s the one who, if we need him, will have to sacrifice himself at the start of the Tour. Then there’s Grabsch who’s a good rouleur and can work well for the team. Yesterday, though, Mark fell on his own, he broke his bike, the road was narrow and the car couldn’t get to him straight away. He just lost too much time and we were unluck. I don’t understand the jury’s decision. I went to see them but…(shrugs)
Bikeradar: What did they say?
VP: They all blamed each other. You know how it is – there are ten judges, four or five on motorbikes…but the president of the jury was surprised that there was a barrage. He didn’t understand why.
Bikeradar: How’s Mark today?
VP He’s fine. I was just really disappointed yesterday, because Mark’s in good form and it was a unique opportunity in England. He was really disappointed, too, but I told him to forget about it and concentrate on trying to win today.
You’ll probably want to check Mark Cavendish’s own blog on the Guardian for his version events, though you won’t find a convincing reason as to why the race commissaries put the block on. Usually a barrage is only ordered when riders are legitimately dropped – not just because they’ve crashed or punctured. We’ll try to track down an answer direct from the UCI, but if Piva’s right, we probably shouldn’t hold our breath. If you think you can enlighten us, we’d welcome comments and pearls of wisdom below.