Following the controversial crash at the end of Stage 4 of the 2017 Tour de France, which ended the involvement of both Peter Sagan and Mark Cavendish in this year’s race, Freewheeling looks back at some of Cav’s other race-changing incidents….
- A Stain on the Jersey
After winning an amazing 6 stages at the 2009 Tour de France, Mark Cavendish left Paris without having secured the prize he most coveted – the green jersey. Despite being on top form, Cav’s designs on the maillot vert came to an abrupt – and controversial – end, when he was disqualified from the Stage 14 results, deemed to have been riding dangerously by steering his rival Thor Hushovd into the barriers.
Cav complained loudly about his disqualification, believing that Hushovd had not played fair by making an official complaint about the Stage 14 sprint. The dispute between the two riders rumbled on throughout the rest of the Tour, with Cav telling the press “this guy thinks so highly of himself that he thinks I’m trying to cheat to beat him…I said to him ‘you’ve won the green jersey, but that’s always going to have a stain on it’…”
- Flicking the V in Romandie
After Cav’s 6 wins in the ’09 Tour, the lack of the green jersey in Paris started to simmer below the surface for Cav and his team, and they were not ashamed to be vocal about targetting the maillot vert for the 2010 Tour de France.
Following the usual pattern however, Cav’s path to glory was far from smooth, and his claim on the jersey looked to be on shaky ground from the off. Cavendish contracted a nasty dental infection in the off-season, which impacted upon his ability to train during the winter months, when most pro racers are laying the foundations for the rest of their season. Cav and cohorts were understandably frustrated going into the early season races, concerned about the impact his truncated training period would have upon his Tour de France ambitions. Some sections of the media began questioning Cav’s commitment, and suggestions were circulating that Mark’s volatile emotional responses – to racing, to questions from journalists, to the actions and statements of his rivals – were hampering his ability to reach his undoubted potential.
The press were keen to focus on what some saw as a question mark over his form, given Cav’s inability to defend his Milan-San Remo title in March 2010. His rocky relationship with team mate and fellow sprinter, Andre Greipel, was generating the column inches which, in a perfect world, would have been filled with a host of early season wins. Cav felt that the media had failed to understand the nuances of pro racing and the impact his dental problems had had upon his training and early races. All these ingredients were swirling around in the pot when Cavendish was selected by his team HTC-Columbia for the Tour de Romandie, a stage race in late April.
Storming to a typically impressive sprint victory in Stage 2 in Switzerland, as he crossed the line in Fribourg, Cav flicked the V sign, the gesture clearly aimed at his critics in the media. In case anyone was confused, Cav told the post-stage press conference that he wanted “to send a message to commentators and journalists who don’t know jack shit about cycling”.
Cav raced Stage 3 – a time trial in which he finished 139th, however HTC-Columbia pulled him from the race soon after, citing “inappropriate actions” when flicking the V in Fribourg. Cav was forced to make a public apology, “I did want to make a statement to my critics but realise that making rude gestures on the finish line is not the best way to do that”.
- Ragin’ Renshaw
Following his expulsion from the Tour de Romandie at the end of April 2010, Cavendish remained undeterred in his green jersey ambitions. The HTC-Columbia team had perfected the art of the lead-out, with the Aussie Mark Renshaw as the last link in the chain, the man to take Cav up the final few metres towards the finish line before swinging away and allowing Cav to leap from his slipstream and dart towards the line with his incredible power and natural sprinting ability. HTC-Columbia’s lead-out was the envy of every sprinter in the peloton, a well-oiled-and-well-drilled machine, with tactical prowess and the ability to accurately read race situations before allowing Cav to power to the line with a frightening acceleration. Going into the 2010 Tour de France, you’d have been mad to suggest that the maillot vert had a destination other than the Manxman from HTC-Columbia.
If you listen to Cav’s post-race interviews, you’ll notice something – a sentiment that he’ll repeat no matter the outcome of the stage. Mark Cavendish will always thank his entire team for their role in delivering him to the line, their individual roles as crucial as Cav’s sprinting skill. So it was a bit of a concern (to say the least) when Renshaw was expelled from the 2010 Tour de France after a headbutting incident during a bunch sprint to the finish of Stage 11 in Bourg-les-Valence.
Renshaw was leading Cav to the finishing metres of Stage 11; the HTC-Columbia train having worked to perfection. Other teams had tried to match HTC-Columbia’s organisation, and everything was set up for an exciting bunch sprint. The Garmin- Transitions team were working for their sprinter Tyler Farrar, who had his lead-out man, New Zealander Julian Dean, ride up alongside Renshaw as the riders hit the 400m to go mark. In the frantic and frenetic final moments of the finishing straight, Renshaw headbutted Julian Dean – not once, not twice, but three times, before cutting into Farrar’s race line, impeding his sprint. “He carried on after (the headbutting incident) and came across Tyler’s line and stopped Tyler from possibly winning the stage” Dean said after Renshaw’s disqualification. “It’s dangerous behaviour, and what we do is already dangerous anyway…if there had been a crash it would have caused some guys serious damage”.
Despite the antics in the bunch, Cav took the stage victory, with Renshaw’s result immediately declassified. Race officials reviewed the footage of the final 400 metres, and deemed Renshaw’s actions unacceptable. “We have decided to throw him off the race” stated race official Jean-Francois Pescheux. “This is a bike race, not a gladiator’s arena”.
Photo credits: Top – Getty/Tour of California, Stain on the Jersey – Telegraph, Flicking the V – Telegraph, Ragin’ Renshaw – Eurosport/ASO