Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) arrived to Zottegem empty-handed today despite a hard fight over the Flemish countryside. He had no answer for Peter Sagan (Cannondale), winner of Three Days of De Panne stage one.
“That guy’s pretty unbeatable right now,” Cavendish said from the steps of the team bus.
“He’s a once in generation rider, for sure. He is super, super good. He’s making us all look like juniors, I think.”
Omega Pharma put its heavy-hitters at Cavendish’s disposal today. Tom Boonen pulled the bunch along, and Niki Terpstra and Sylvain Chavanel blocked to ensure a Cav victory.
Cavendish won stages two and three A in 2008 and 2009. The first stage of De Panne is traditionally harder, including climbs that many like Sagan are using for a Tour of Flanders tune-up.
Riders took turns attacking today to break free and to avoid a group sprint. Sagan tried a few times. André Greipel (Lotto-Belisol) also had a dig. With the team’s help, Cavendish remained in contention.
Even when Sagan tried on the Eikenmolen climb, Cavendish was there. When Sagan went another time, this time with eight kilometres remaining, it was too much. The group won with a handful of seconds, Cavendish finished behind in 16th place.
“It wasn’t necessarily a difficult day. It was more difficult to control. It was mostly a headwind, so you can’t break the race, so it’s difficult to ride.”
Cavendish explained that the team did not put all of its chips on a sprint.
“Absolutely not,” he continued. “There’s three guys ahead of me, to be fair. We want to do something in the GC here. And then, obviously, if it comes back, then we ride for a sprint. But today’s not a course you can control for a sprint. It’s always going to break a little bit.”
He also took time to glance further afield when talking to the journalists at the team bus. The leg starts down the road tomorrow in Oudenaarde. It travels towards the coast and, wind permitting, favours a sprint.
“It should be a sprint,” Cavendish said. “It should break up and come back together.”
He reminded the journalists of his wins in 2008 and 2009, a sign that he is hungry for more in De Panne.