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Mark Cavendish fighting to stay in Tour de France already after brutal first stage
Cycling Sport

Mark Cavendish fighting to stay in Tour de France already after brutal first stage

Romance is alive and well in the Tour de France, but so is chaos and suffering. As Mark Cavendish was sweating like a dog and vomiting on the climbs on the first stage from Florence to Rimini, one of the peloton’s most popular riders and great thinkers, Romain Bardet, making his final appearance in a race in which he has twice come close to winning, claimed the first yellow jersey of his career.

If Bardet was in a state of disbelief at the finish, Cavendish and his Astana Qazaqstan team were just in a state. On the ropes almost immediately, the recently knighted sprinter toiled over the numerous climbs, and also lost his Italian teammate, Michele Gazzoli, who quit after 120km of the Tour’s first stage.

Worse was to follow, when his team’s Colombian climber, Harold Tejada, was also dropped by the main contenders in the final hour of racing. In the end, Cavendish and his teammates did enough to ensure the 39-year-old finished inside the time cut.

Making his valedictory appearance, the highly regarded Bardet left French eyes brimming as he took the stage win and yellow jersey following his attack with dsm-firmenich PostNL teammate, Frank van den Broek, 40km from Rimini, on the climb of the Cote de Montemaggio.

“It’s crazy,” Bardet said after what was his fourth Tour stage win. “I had to back myself, I had to hope this would go well.”

The duo entered the final 20km of racing with a 1min 30sec lead on the chasing peloton, but as the kilometres clicked down, their lead dwindled to a handful of seconds as they entered the final 1,000m.

But thrillingly, the pair held on to the line, with Bardet taking an emotional stage win. After a long and distinguished career that has included two podium appearances in Paris, the 33-year-old is one of the Tour’s nearly men, finishing second and third to Chris Froome in 2016 and 2017 respectively.

“I’ve been really close before, it’s been within touching distance and I’ve never been able to do it,” he said about finally claiming the race lead. “But today I had a great teammate with me. Because Frank was so strong we were able to work together and go for it – he really deserves this win as much as me.”

On a stifling afternoon, Cavendish was in crisis from the first climb, and at one point, looked close to complete collapse. Somehow, he steadied the ship, although he finished the stage more than 39 minutes down on Bardet. He can take solace in knowing that he was far from the only big name to suffer on a stage when several pre-race favourites struggled.

“It was the weirdest stage I’ve ever done,” Tom Pidcock, of Ineos Grenadiers, said, “because of the heat. It was the first proper hot day in Europe and nobody has really raced in it.”

French hope David Gaudu, the leader of the Groupama FDJ team, Tadej Pogacar’s UAE Team Emirates lieutenant, Juan Ayuso, and the Irish sprinter Sam Bennett, of Decathlon-AG2R La Mondiale, were among those to be dropped by the main peloton.

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Even in the chaotic start area in Florence before the race began, there were walking wounded, with one of Remco Evenepoel’s key Soudal Quick-Step teammates, Jan Hirt, crashing after colliding with a fan outside his team bus.

Hirt broke three teeth in the fall, but was able to start the race. Reacting to Hirt’s crash, his teammate, Yves Lampaert, criticised the race organisation, saying: “It’s complete chaos. The organisation has no control over it all. People are running everywhere.

“We as riders get fines galore for small things. The organisation should take a look in the mirror. It’s unacceptable.”

After a nightmare start to his campaign to claim a record-breaking 35th stage win, Cavendish must now try to pick up the pieces. Expectations that he can still pull it off remain high. Sunday’s second stage from Cesenatico to Bologna has yet more short sharp climbs, but with his eyes firmly fixed on Monday’s first genuine sprint finish in Turin, he will be praying he can recover.

Source: theguardian.com