ROUEN, France (VN) – Heart rates across Great Britain shot through the roof as Olympic favorite Mark Cavendish (Sky) hit the deck in Wednesday’s sprint finish at the Tour de France.
World champion Cavendish and leadout man Bernhard Eisel crashed heavily, leaving Cavendish with cuts and scrapes and Eisel receiving stitches above his eye.
Cavendish did not speak to reporters after the stage, but Eisel told French TV it wasn’t him who caused the crash.
“I fell first and then 20 riders went over me. Thank God I am not more seriously injured. I only have some damage to my eye, nothing that stitches cannot fix,” Eisel told French TV. “(Matt) Goss did some dangerous movements and didn’t want to brake. I could not avoid falling. I hope this is my last fall in the Tour.”
Goss could not immediately be reached for comment, but he avoided the fall and sprinted to fourth on the stage.
Despite the high-speed crash, both Eisel and Cavendish are expected to start Thursday’s sixth stage, and the Manxman’s gold medal hopes are still alive.
“Mark lost some skin, but he’s not too bad off,” said Sky principal David Brailsford. “Of course, no one likes to crash. I cannot repeat what he said when he got on the bus.”
The crash also took down Robbie Hunter and Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Sharp), Mark Renshaw (Rabobank) and others, cutting the peloton in two at about 2.6km to go.
While Cavendish suffered superficial cuts, Eisel was the worse off. Doctors gave him stitches to cover a deep gash to his forehead and team doctors will watch him closely.
“Bernie took a big chunk out of his eye. You will never be sure until you check everyone out. Everyone is on adrenaline, but we hope everything is OK,” Brailsford said. “We hope they both can start tomorrow.”
The crash was Cavendish’s third heavy fall of the season. He fell hard at the Tour of Qatar in February and again in stage 3 at the Giro d’Italia.
With the London Games just weeks away, Cavendish does not want to break any bones or suffer a serious injury that could jeopardize his Olympic hopes.
“Sprinters crash. That’s part of the job. It would be nice to minimize those risks,” Brailsford said. “We have to respect the fact that they put their necks on the line, sometimes they get the glory, but sometimes there’s a lot of pain.”
Cavendish should be able to dust himself off and start tomorrow, but his green jersey hopes took a blow.
Earlier in the stage, Cavendish won the bunch sprint at the day’s intermediate sprint, but lost the finish-line points and sunk further behind points leader Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale).
Sagan now leads Goss, 147-92, with Cavendish slipping to fourth with 86 points.
When a Eurosport interviewer asked Sky director Sean Yates if Cavendish is running more risks trying to “freelance” the sprints rather than having the full support of a lead-out train, he said no.
“I don’t think so,” he said. “Every sprint is dangerous.”
Cavendish was riding with a full leadout when he went down in Qatar and at the Giro.
About 15 riders made it clear from the crash on Wednesday, including the leadout men for André Greipel (Lotto-Belisol), who went on to win the stage.
“To a certain extent, but it’s still a risky business no matter how you look at it. There were crashes at the Giro when we had a more dedicated train. It’s not always the riders’ fault,” Brailsford said. “Theoretically, there might be a greater risk (without a train), but it doesn’t eliminate the risk.”
Depending on the seriousness of his injuries, the crash could alter Cavendish’s Tour ride.
With on eye on the Olympic Games, Cavendish might not be so pressed to drive all the way to Paris, especially if he’s banged up and not in the hunt for the green jersey.
He will likely continue on for now, though, with an eye toward another likely bunch finish in Saint-Quentin on Thursday.