RUPERT GUINNESS July 04, 2012
World champion Mark Cavendish delivered a blunt rebuttal to anyone who still doubted he can win without a dedicated lead-out train.
The British speedster claimed his 21st Tour de France stage victory in yesterday's stage two with rat cunning, guile and self-belief matched only by his sheer speed.
In previous years Cavendish's then HTC-Highroad team was renowned for the precision with which it delivered its main man to within striking distance of the line. But this year Cavendish's Sky team is directing its resources towards Briton Bradley Wiggins's yellow jersey campaign, with the defending green jersey holder left largely to his own devices. Cavendish has won sprints on his own before, but this victory over German Andre Greipel (Lotto-Belisol) and Australian Matt Goss (Orica-Greenedge) in the 207 kilometre stage from Vise to Tournai was arguably his best solo effort to date.
After seizing victory at his first real opportunity in this year's Tour the Manxman was be fancied to repeat it overnight in the 214.5km fourth stage from Abbeville to Rouen.
Of Sky's nine-man squad only Austrian Bernard Eisel and Norwegian Edvald Boasson Hagen were picked to help Cavendish.
Even then, when it came yesterday morning's stage, Cavendish opted to fight his own battle.
Asked why he didn't use Eisel or Boasson Hagen, Cavendish said: ''Its the Tour de France, not another race where you can come up in the last 2km. It goes 10km quicker than any other race. They are going so hard and fast. Maybe once, but not always [can he use them]''.
''I would be killing them by the end of the week. If [you have a] whole team, you can stay out in front … but with one or two guys … it's easier to do [the finale] on your own … It's less decisions and calculations that you have to make.
''It was always going to be difficult to win stages [without a train]. It made me more relaxed. In the past, when I had a dedicated team I should have won and there was pressure. It's difficult to win without a team, [so] I was like, 'Give it a shot … see what happens. If we don't win, we don't win'.''
Reaction to Cavendish's win was glowing from almost every front.
Sky team manager David Brailsford, who also runs British Cycling, believes Cavendish's stage-two win was a defining moment in his career.
''Mark showed why he is the world champion. Why, when you put him in that last two or three kilometres, he's the master,'' Brailsford said.
''How he got on Greipel's wheel [in the finale], I don't know. Who knows? But he did. That's what makes him the champion that he is.
''He knows how to pick the right wheels. He makes more right decisions than wrong decisions and more often finds himself in the right position.''
Eisel, one of Cavendish's most entrusted teammates, said: ''He showed that he's able to win this sprint without a train, just floating around and moving up in the last moment''
''I'm happy for him. Now, I think it's easier for him.
''He was never in better shape, that's for sure.''