The tears flowed as Mark Cavendish stood on the podium in Montargis after winning his first stage win of this year’s Tour de France.
Yesterday he was well beaten and showed his frustration by flinging his bike down when he got back to the HTC-Columbia bus. Moments later he hurled his helmet out of the door of the bus too. A season of low points showed no signs of turning around.
But you can’t write off Cavendish. HTC-Columbia rejigged their approach to the finale, allowing Garmin-Transitions to take up the pace in the final couple of kilometres. Instead of putting their own train - weakened by the withdrawal of Adam Hansen a few days ago - on the front throughout the run-in, HTC-Columbia tried a different tactic. They put Mark Renshaw in front of Cavendish and the Australian fought off all-comers to steer his team-mate into the perfect position.
Cavendish, always an emotional person, said: “It means everything. It’s been hard this year. We came to the Tour and things haven’t really gone our way the first few days.
“Yesterday my team did an incredible job and I let them down massively at the end. It would have been easy for them to say ‘Oh he hasn’t got it’ like a lot of other people have but they believed in me and they did an amazing job again.
“It was a technical finish and the other teams came at us from all sides. Mark Renshaw was fighting with Thor [Hushovd] and Oscar [Freire] and I knew he’d get me where I needed to be.
“We looked at the finish on Google Earth this morning and we thought it was a flat finish but when we got the information relayed back from Erik Zabel later in the day we knew it was an uphill finish.
“All that emotion, all that pressure that’s built up all year has finally come to an end.”
It was the 11th Tour de France stage win of Cavendish’s career and the 55th professional victory he has notched.
After the crashes and the cobbles, the Tour could be forgiven for settling into a more laid back rhythm. With the temperature well over 30 degrees, the bunch was happy to let the three early escapees cook in the sunshine.
The Spanish road race champion Jose Ivan Gutierrez (Caisse d’Epargne) kicked off the attacks inside the first ten kilometres of the 187.5-kilometre stage from Epernay to Montargis, home town of the Tour de France competitions director, Jean-Francois Pescheux.
Gutierrez was joined by Julien El Fares (Cofidis) and Jurgen Van de Walle (Quick Step). The trio work well together and the lead reached around seven minutes at its maximum. The bunch kept it within reach to avoid a hard chase later in the day.
Inevitably, the advantage began to tumble and the leaders failed to reach the 20 kilometre to go mark with the two minutes they needed to make a fight of it.
With 6.6km to go, Gutierrez, a fine time triallist, tried to go on his own but the lead was only 20 seconds. There was no chance of making it to the line.
The bunch finally caught him with 4km to go. The approach to the line was technical in places, although free of the successive roundabouts that made viewers hold their breath yesterday.
The sprints have been very open so far, with no single team able to control things completely. Lampre and Garmin both looked strong in numbers and as they came round the final bend, the Garmin team seemed to have things in hand, perhaps surprisingly considering Tyler Farrar’s injuries.
Renshaw pulled off and Cavendish opened his sprint. Unlike yesterday, when he said he had been unable to get his chain onto the 11-toothed sprocket, there were no problems and he was able to stretch clear to the line.
This was more like the Cavendish of old, although he is still not quite back to his very best.
His former team-mate, Gerald Ciolek (Milram) took second, with Team Sky’s Edvald Boasson Hagen taking third for a second successive day.
Thor Hushovd was only fifth but he will be happy to have added another healthy haul of points to his total. Alessandro Petacchi, who has won two stages so far, was eighth.
Overall there was no change to the top of the classification, with Fabian Cancellara keeping his hold on the yellow jersey, ahead of Britain’s Geraint Thomas.
Although Cavendish trails Hushovd by 52 points in the green jersey race, he will take heart from today’s result.
The overall favourites were all home safely. Bradley Wiggins (Team Sky) crashed in the neutralised zone but was not seriously hurt.
Friday’s sixth stage from Montargis to Gueugnon is the longest of the race, at 227.5km. It is another one for the sprinters, although there are two fourth-category climbs towards the end which may help the attackers.
Stage five: Épernay - Montargis
1. Mark Cavendish (GB) HTC-Columbia 187.5km in 4-30-50
2. Gerald Ciolek (Ger) Milram
3. Edvald Boasson Hagen (Nor) Team Sky
4. Jose Joaquin Rojas (Spa) Caisse d’Epargne
5. Thor Hushovd (Nor) Cervélo Test Team
6. Sébastien Turgot (Fra) Bbox Bouygues Telecom
7. Robbie McEwen (Aus) Katusha
8. Alessandro Petacchi (Ita) Lampre
9. Lloyd Mondory (Fra) Ag2r-La Mondiale
10. Tyler Farrar (USA) Garmin-Transitions
Overall classification after stage five
1. Fabian Cancellara (Swi) Saxo Bank in 22-59-45
2. Geraint Thomas (GB) Team Sky at 23sec
3. Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC Racing at 39sec
4. Ryder Hesjedal (Can) Garmin-Transitions at 46sec
5. Sylvain Chavanel (Fra) Quick Step at 1-01
6. Andy Schleck (Lux) Saxo Bank at 1-09
7. Thor Hushovd (Nor) Cervélo at 1-19
8. Alexandre Vinokourov (Kaz) Astana at 1-31
9. Alberto Contador (Spa) Astana at 1-40
10. Jurgen Van den Broeck (Bel) Omega Pharma at 1-42
Points competition Thor Hushovd (Nor) Cervélo
King of the mountains Jérôme Pineau (Fra) Quick Step
Young rider Geraint Thomas (GB) Team Sky
Teams Saxo Bank
Bradley Wiggins (l) and Geraint Thomas
Mark Cavendish takes his first stage win of the 2010 Tour
Tour de France 2010: Latest news
Thomas happy with Tour’s white jersey; but says ‘All for Brad’
Cavendish keeps up fight for first Tour win
Sky delivers Boasson Hagen to third without pressure
Thomas in tour’s white jersey; Wiggins gains time
Evans and Schleck gain in Tour’s hell of the north
The Feed Zone: Tour news and views (July 6)
Vande Velde abandons Tour following crash
Andy Schleck has a laugh after stage two crash
The Feed Zone: News and views (July 5)
Sky banks on Thomas ahead of cobbled stage
Cavendish’s sprint train weakened with Hansen out
Armstrong under fire as Landis allegations reach mainstream
Team Sky’s decision to put Wiggins off early back fires
Tour de France 2010: Stage reports
Stage four: Petacchi wins into Reims
Stage three: Hushovd takes dramatic win; Thomas second on stage and GC
Stage three live coverage: As it happened
Stage two: Comeback man Chavanel takes victory in Spa
Stage one: Petacchi wins in Brussels as bunch left in tatters
Prologue: Cancellara pips Martin to win
Tour de France 2010: Race guide
Tour de France 2010: Cycling Weekly’s coverage index
Official start list, with race numbers
Brits at the Tour 2010
Tout team guide
Tour jerseys: What they are and what they mean
Brits in the Tours: From Robinson to Wiggins