REDON, France (AFP) – Mark Cavendish warned his Tour de France sprint rivals not to write him off after the Briton was forced to play second fiddle to American Tyler Farrar on the race’s third stage Monday.
Cavendish, who is looking to add to his record tally of 15 stages and win the points competition’s green jersey, went into the 198km ride from Lorient to Redon as the man to beat.
But on the first flat finish to this year’s race the Isle of Man sprinter and his HTC-Highroad team were humbled by rivals Garmin, and a late bend in the road that played havoc with all the sprinters’ plans.
HTC showed its cards early, driving the pace in the closing five kilometers in a bid to drop their sprint rivals and deliver Cavendish as close to the finish line as possible.
However a late attack from a Vacansoleil rider, and a bend with 500 meters to go almost took the ‘Manx Missile’ out and left their dreams in tatters.
Cavendish had harsh words for Frenchman Romain Feillu after the finish where he took fifth place to add 22 points to his tally for the green jersey.
But he ultimately warned it is early days yet on the 21-stage race, on which several sprint opportunities remain.
“I felt good at the finish and you could see by how I came back in the last 500 meters,” said Cavendish, who took five victories on last year’s race.
“I couldn’t win but I managed to keep myself in contention for the green (jersey).
“It’s a shame. I think it’s going to take a very uneducated person to write me off this year. I’ve got great form, the team’s got great form, it’s just a bit of bad luck.”
On the 98th edition, there are only six stages on which Cavendish — and several other sprint specialists — can realistically take aim at victory.
That means the finales are fraught affairs, and the bunch sprints are even more dangerous.
French sprinter Samuel Dumoulin of Cofidis did a complete somersault with his feet still attached to his pedal cleats when he tried to avoid the barriers as he came into the final hand.
But another Frenchman, Feillu, was the target for Cavendish after the Vacansoleil man fought hard to finish second ahead of Spaniard Jose Joaquin Rojas.
“The guys did a great job, but as usual Romain Feillu — he causes havoc in every sprint,” added Cavendish.
“You ask every sprinter who causes havoc? You might get a couple of Garmin guys saying me, but most of the guys will say Romain Feillu.
“He took me out on the last corner. I was 40 meters behind out the last corner with no speed whatsoever. I went full gas, I gained 40 meters and finished with the front four (five) and I gained points and it just shows my form.”
Despite his second place, Feillu was upbeat that Cavendish and his normally dominant sprint train were finally derailed.
“I’m happy that things are becoming a bit frayed, that we’re not subject to the domination of Cavendish,” said the Frenchman, whose team has no sprint train.
“His (sprint) train made some mistakes, which is good. It’s encouraging for the likes of (Alessandro) Petacchi, Farrar and hopefully me.
“Just because you’ve got a sprint train, it doesn’t entitle you to victory.”