Mark Cavendish’s win in Chateauroux on Friday took us back to the sprints of a couple of years ago when the Manxman would enjoy a full team lead out.
So commanding were such set-ups, it was perhaps easy to misconceive back then that Cavendish’s success was overly dependent on such ‘armchair rides’. However, he proved last year that that was certainly not the case when the HTC leadout train was typically a less dominating operation.
At the kill, it often comprised just himself and Mark Renshaw exploiting the efforts of some of his rivals’ teams.
On Wednesday’s stage to Cep Fréhel, Cavendish again played the field, emerging victorious from a melee of various teams on what was a somwhat tricky run-in. But today’s sprint was a very different gallop. A whole train of HTC riders dominated the flat boulevard finale and barely gave anyone else a look-in.
“We got ourselves the best organised and brought it to the line perfectly,” HTC-Highroad team manager Rold Aldag told Cycling Weekly. “If you wanted to show perfect team work, then you should show that video to the next generation.”
The reason HTC returned to these tactics was simply a case of seizing an opportunity. Due to crashes and the wind, the field had already been whittled down to 80 odd riders and was missing one or two of Cavendish’s most dangerous rivals.
HTC-Highroad on the other hand were well represented.
“It was possible today because we had a team that was incredibly strong,” explained Aldag. “Normally it’s not realistic to do those type of things but there was a major crash. Our guys were in the front anyway, so they kept it going.
“Nobody else who had any interest in the sprint was there as a complete team,” he added. “Only BMC and Leopard-Trek were there in full but they had no interest in sprinting. We realised that early and said: ‘whatever attacks happen, it is all on us [to chase]‘.”
The placing of the intermediate sprint just 25km from the finish actually played into HTC’s hands. Having set him up to take fifth palce behind the four man break, Cavendish’s team simply reformed and carried on again towards the finish.
“As soon as I crossed the line, all the guys swarmed around me to help me recover,” recalled Cav of the intermediate sprint. “They rode incredible the whole day.”
After earlier work from Lars Bak, Danny Pate and Tejay Van Garderen, the final 3km saw the bunch -having recaptured the break- strung out by Peter Velits, Bernhard Eisel and Tony Martin.
Matt Goss upped the pace on the 1.6km finishing straight of Avenue de la Chârtre -where Cavendish also took his first Tour stage win in 2008- before Renshaw provided the final launch.
“The tactic for the day was to create a massive sprint,” said Aldag. “We believed in Cavendish today like we believed in Goss yesterday.”
But how much energy does such a big effort like that take out of the team?
“I had sore legs this morning and I’ll even have sorer legs tomorrow!” laughed Eisel. “That doesn’t matter. The important thing is Cav got his 17th Tour stage win.”
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