Blazin' Saddles

Wayne Rooney on wheels

Blazin' Saddles

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Moments after switching bidon fetching for stage winning, Mark Cavendish compared his role in this year's Tour de France as akin to playing Wayne Rooney in defence.

Despite admitting to taking pride in remoulding himself as a Cat.1 mountain pace-setter and water-carrier extraordinaire, Cavendish told reporters: "But I'm a sprinter — it's kind of like putting Wayne Rooney in defence. You know, I was kind of lost."

It has certainly been a surreal sight seeing the world champion stretch those famous rainbow stripes with water bottles for his Team Sky lieutenants battling it out for the maillot jaune. While sprint rivals Andre Greipel and Peter Sagan had notched three wins apiece, Cavendish must have been pedalling around the Pyrenees hoping for a call from Oleg Tinkov.

"Physically it's been hard," Cavendish said after notching only his second win of the race. "To be part of a team that's going to win the Tour is a massive honour but I did put my sprint chances on the back foot."

As we know, Rooney, however, can use both feet — and Cavendish turned things round with cycling's equivalent of gathering the ball in his own box and running the length of the field before sliding the ball into an open net.

Whether or not the similarities with Rooney extend to celebrating on Friday night in with a visit to a 'bordel' specialising in the more mature lady, we'll probably never know. Perhaps he'll wait until he matches his rivals with a third win on the Champs Elysees on Sunday.

Should Cavendish win in Paris then it would cap off an extraordinary Tour for Team Sky, who are all but guaranteed a one-two in the GC, plus victory for Wiggins on Saturday in the final time trial.

Six stages — two for Wiggins, one for Froome and three for Cavendish — as well as Briton's first ever Tour winner and — heck, why not — second place for good measure, would mark an astonishing clean-sweep for the British team. One which could be completed with an Olympic gold medal for Cavendish on The Mall in London in 10 days' time.

Should this happen, it would certainly put all the pace-setting and water-carrying into perspective. If Cavendish can win three stages (and remember, crashes kept him out of two other bunch sprints) during a race in which Team Sky can top the GC with Wiggins and Froome — then what are all the complaints about?

"On the bus, Sean Yates [Sky DS] was like, 'Okay boys, let's take it easy today', but I was like, 'Oh please, let me have a chance!'. Then Brad came up and said, 'Look, we're going to ride today. We'll make a sprint," said Cav.

And the yellow jersey did just that. In a touching display of generosity and team spirit, Wiggins led out the sprint for Cavendish. Seeing the race's maillot jaune do such a thing two days away from Paris was surely an unprecedented sight in the Tour — but came as no surprise from a man who did exactly the same thing a week earlier en route to Le Cap d'Adge.

"It's been a difficult couple of weeks for Cav," Wiggins said, moments after mistaking French President Francois Hollande for someone off French reality TV (and before laying into another over-zealous cameraman). "We've had to put his goals and aspirations aside really and no one likes that. He's the world champion at the end of the day so it was nice that we could all do that for him today."

With friends like these, Cav may not need to answer that call from Tinkov after all.

Dog days for PhilGil

Saddles always thought France's native bear population was confined to certain inaccessible valleys in the Pyrenees but an incident 100km from the finish on Friday proved that not to be the case when a rogue bear rampaged into the peloton and sent a dozen riders sprawling.

Luckily it emerged that the pet bear was very tame. In fact, it soon became clear that it was in fact no bear, but rather a huge dog of uncanny ursine appearance. A Newfoundland. Renowned for their friendly nature and clumsiness. Popular in Canada. (Perhaps a present from the absent Ryder Hesjedal?)

Anyway, Philippe Gilbert was one of the riders to hit the deck. And seeing the colossal mutt lollop around before being finally put on a leash by its owners on the side of the road, the Belgian couldn't hold himself back.

"Then and there, all I could think about was punching the owner. Fortunately John Lelangue was there to stop me," the Belgian admitted after the stage. With the excitable dog now cowering in guilt behind a small girl and her two parents, Gilbert paced up and delivered a rally of abuse before being ushered away by his BMC manager. (It was a bit like Tyler Farrar's failed remonstrations with the Argos-Shimano bus.)

Gilbert then almost got himself run over by the Katusha team car before continuing on his way. "He hurt his elbow and knee — the dog was much bigger than him," said Lelangue. Still, making a small girl cry would be seen as a win of sorts for Gilbert in what has been an entirely fruitless campaign so far.

Valverde wins … a helicopter ride

It was a day of positives for the Tour top 20 (as well as Frank Schleck) after it emerged that the leading riders in the GC would be given a helicopter flight to Bonneval, Saturday's start town, after the stage.

All those placed 21st or below had to make the 400km journey by bus — but those in the top 20 could sit back and enjoy the view from a chopper. It must have made Alejandro Valverde's stage 17 all the sweeter: in taking the victory in Peyragudes, the Green Bullet leap-frogged Jerome Coppel into 20th place in the GC, saving himself one long bus ride.

Andre Greipel, predictably, took the train.

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