Blazin' Saddles

Cavendish capitulation

Blazin' Saddles

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Somewhere in Austria there was an almighty roar as Andre Greipel (presumably) broke in to laughter while watching the climax of stage four of the Tour.

Greipel, a winner of 12 "small races" this year including a Giro scalp and victory in the opening stage of the Tour of Austria on Sunday, must have felt a mixture of anger and elation as Mark "80 per cent" Cavendish capitulated for the second time in this year's Grande Boucle.

"Scheie," Saddles pictures Greipel saying as he watched the highlights. "Cavendish ist langsamer als meine Mutter! Ich wnsche, dass ich in Frankreich war. Warum bin ich in sterreich und nicht in Frankreich?"

Despite a superb lead-out by Mark Renshaw, Cav couldn't match Alessandro Petacchi's Champagne finish in Reims.

Three days ago, before the carnage in the Ardennes and over the cobbles, Petacchi won the race's opening stage but only after a series of incidents, including Cav overcooking the final bend.

The Italian maestro bragged in Brussels that he would have won even without those crashes. If the cycling world were not entirely convinced by the veteran's bullish statement then, then they will be now.

It was Ale-Jet against Ryan Air Cav out there under the fierce sun. A Mr T arm-wrestle against Mr Bean could not have been a more embarrassing mismatch.

Not only was Cav well and truly creamed, he also sat up, threw in the towel and settled for 12th place. In doing so he allowed a clearly fatigued Thor Hushovd finish four places ahead.

For Cav, the green jersey competition is as over as Frank Schleck's Tour. The season's major target lost before the sixth day. On Wednesday morning, Cav had a solitary point to his name; now he has 15 - which is even less than Denis Menchov.

Green is clearly a two-way battle between Hushovd and Petacchi from here on in. Hushovd will be kicking himself for following Cav's wheel on Wednesday - this year's equivalent of tailing Menchov down an Alpine descent.

Petacchi has been a revelation in his first Tour since 2004. The 36-year-old Italian clearly packed his inhaler after seven years in Tour wilderness. At this rate, he'll match his four-stage haul of 2003.

Saddles is playing Devil's Advocate here, but there must be grounds to suggest that Cav's total domination of Tour sprinting in recent years can now be explained not so much in the Manxman's previous excellence but in Petacchi's continued absence?

Of course, form is also a huge factor. Cav has been as formless as a jellyfish this season, picking up less than a handful of wins en route to the Tour (via the dentist). He's also crashed and suffered immeasurably.

Many people will be happy to witness this extraordinary meltdown from someone who makes even Nicklas Bendtner look humble. But while green is out of the question, Cav will be back to winning ways soon - surely?

That's the best thing about sprinting - it's in a constant state of flux. Rarely is there one rider who dominates for such long periods unchallenged by his rivals. Reigns coincide and bounce off each other. Form goes in peaks and troughs - and at the moment Petacchi is experiencing the former and Cav the latter.

Anyway, the high octane finale brought an end to what was a rather boring day on the road. Saddles holds Saxo Bank and Fabian Cancellara entirely culpable. They can't crash all over the place and neutralise things one day, then blow the field apart the next without capping it off with something equally extraordinary on the third. So sort it out Saxo, pull your finger out and snap out of it.

The only point of interest earlier in the day was confirmation that two of Saddles' rather out there Tour predictions came true: Dimitry Champion did indeed go for a breakaway win and, more importantly, Vladimir Karpets has cut off his mullet. Must be the first time the back of the Russian's neck has seen the light of day in a decade.

Quote of the day #1: "We are missing Adam Hansen and Michael Rogers in the lead out. Adam has to watch from the couch and Mick has other objectives." And Big George is now at BMC? Mark Renshaw tries to make sense of Cavendish's poor form.

Quote of the day #2: "We have to keep on supporting him, there is not a plan B to make Tony Martin our sprinter. We just have to continue to keep working on it." HTC-Columbia sports director Rolf Aldag.

Word of the day: Txurrukaed - adj. state of suffering serious misfortune a day later than those around you. Eg. Steve didn't get to see Sex In The City 2 on its opening night but he went the next day and was duly txurrukaed.

Stage five prediction: Maybe HTC-Columbia will try a different tactic and allow Cav to go off in a breakaway - could be the only chance of winning at this rate. It's another flat stage and should come down to a bunch finish in Montargis - a sleepy town in the Loiret whose claim to fame is being indirectly responsible for the birth of Chinese communism. Maybe an old work horse like George Hincapie will feel inspired?

Plat du jour: Lasagne and pralines. Why? Well, the almond and sugar sweets are a local delicacy and were invented by the Montargis-born Clement Lassagne. Washed down with a glass of Pol Roger Champagne at the start, or a glass of Gris Meunier wine from nearby Orleans at the finish.

Peloton prattle: Which two peloton hot-heads have arranged a bare-knuckle boxing match for the first rest day?

Uses for Mark Cavendish #2: Alessandro Petacchi's lead-out man.

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