Mark Cavendish survives tour day agony: ‘I was seeing stars’

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RIMINI, Italy (FILO) – The first stage of the 2024 Tour de France was never going to be easy for Mark Cavendish, with more than 3,600 meters of elevation gain and seven classified ascents on the saw-blade route between Florence and Rimini.

But when the Astana Kazakhstan team leader fell on the first climb of the day, Colli Delli Faggi vomited and fell five minutes behind the peloton, there was an understandable fear of the worst.

It seemed that the sport’s most prominent runner was in danger of missing the allotted time or having to retire before he could move the throttle competitively in a fast race, let alone finish a stage.

After suffering a broken collarbone at Bordeaux on his first Tour retirement 12 months earlier, this was another fairy tale that quickly turned evil, another failed outpouring of the Tour. Surely not again?

However, you don’t win 34 stages of the Tour de France without immense strength, resilience and experience, and Cavendish had to draw on all of those qualities to get through the day and ensure he remained in contention for a record 35th.

As the stage progressed, Cavendish and his four Astana teammates, Paul, Ballerini, Fedorov and Murkov, rode a steady pace, riding in a group with Jonas Rijkaardt (Alpesen-Deseuinink), as well as post-NFL DSM-Firmenich duo Fabio Jacobsen and Bram Welten.

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It was hot and tough in the hills of Emilia Romagna, but it became clear that while Cavendish was losing time, it would not stop his Tour run.

160 kilometers from the end of the race, he arrived in Rimini some 39 minutes behind winner Romain Bardet, but drove the final meters to the team bus with the help of Michael Murkov, the trusted man who drove the car. The big question was: Was he suffering from illness or extremely high temperatures exceeding 97 degrees Fahrenheit?

“I think it was just the heat,” he told the media outside his team bus after the finish. “It’s not easy. I always say: if you have my body type now, don’t start cycling because those days are gone. But we know what we’re doing.”

“It was very difficult, but we had a plan and executed it. I wanted to stay on one more climb with the group, but I was seeing stars, and it was very hot. But I’m happy that we made it through the second stage.”

Cavendish lives to fight another day, and goes into more detail about how he and his teammates ran the calculations to ensure they didn’t go home and finish the match later than the scheduled time.

“We don’t take it lightly. You can infer what the front runners are going to do,” he said. “Then you work out what you can do, what you need to do to get to the time limit on each climb. It’s a bit boring, but that’s the way cycling has gone. It’s a nice story if you’re close to the time gap, but the time limit isn’t there “Really to take people out of the race, and it’s even there when people get sick and injured, which is fair enough.”

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“Keep fighting, Mark!” shouted one British fan from the crowd gathered around him as his interview ended. That much is certain.

But Cavendish’s hopes of winning the speed stage suffered a severe blow after his teammate Michele Gazzoli withdrew, becoming the first to withdraw from the race. He said about the young Italian: “I hope he is fine.” According to team manager Alexander Vinokourov, the young Italian suffered heatstroke in the hot conditions.

While it seems that something may have been amiss with Cavendish’s health, he spoke to bicycleVinokourov confirmed that Cavendish “is not sick. I knew that the stage would be difficult for Mark, and this is not a good day for him. He calculated the power and the distance, and we did everything as expected.”

The Tour’s first sprint opportunity is supposed to come on Stage 3 in Turin, but the Tour’s second day on Sunday is another day of gruppeto humiliation for Cavendish and his fellow sprinters, with more than 1,900m and two late climbs of San Luca before the finish in Bologna.

Is Vinokourov worried about tomorrow’s stage? He said: “Tomorrow is another day, and we have to take it day by day. He has to recover today, we have already set our goal, and we are working on it.”

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