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2016 Tour de France; Stage 3- Cav cages Gorilla Greipel

July 4, 2016

I’m confused, caught in an internal struggle of emotions; I’m not a Cavendish fanboy, but I’m finding myself non-hating him at this Tour de France. Could it be that after a couple of lean- for Cav- seasons, that the pint-sized ankle-biter has mellowed and grown up a bit? Perhaps fatherhood has matured him? Has he, not unlike Sir Bradley, actually become likable? I’m really struggling here …

On a day where a British rider beat a German, on the day the US celebrates its independence from British rule, two French riders spent nearly the entire day in a certain-to-fail breakaway. Symbolism runneth over. The always grimacing, ever tongue wagging, Thomas Voeckler (Direct Energie), joined lone escapee Armindo Fonseca (Fortuneo-Vital Concept) for a grand day out. The pair was helped by a very lazy peloton that cruised at club ride speed for much of the day, allowing the duo to have a gap that ballooned to over eight minutes before waking up. Voeckler and Fonseca both ride for small French teams, so the tv time was certainly worth the effort, and Voeckler is one of the grand arch dukes of suicide missions … flashing his suffer face, and licking an invisible ice cream cone.

Eventually, the sprinter’s teams woke up and started reeling things in, setting things up for the inevitable field sprint. Lotto-Soudal (Greipel), EQS (Kittel), and Katusha (Kristoff) all shared in the work, along with Cavendish’s Dimension Data. As the finish drew closer, and the break was absorbed, the elbows got sharper, and the fighting for position took off in earnest- with both GC teams protecting their GC leaders, and sprint teams setting up their fire breathing pedal smashers. With the Tour being SO important, the battles for position have escalated to all-time high levels of insanity, as noted by such riders as Peter Sagan and Bernard Eisel.

In the closing throws, coming out of the final turn with less than 500m to go, it looked like EQS and Kittel ran out of gas or just got boxed in, while Katusha and Kristoff seemed to lose interest. Lotto-Soudal and Dimension Data never lost the script though, and Greipel decided to #smashallthepedals first, dragging Cav in his massive quads slipstream. Cavendish showed the impeccable patience of a seasoned sprinter, jumping off Greipel’s wheel and lunging for the line at the absolute last moment possible. Both riders thought they’d taken the win, with Cavendish the close winner after the photo finish was reviewed. Bryan Coquard nipped Sagan for third, so Peter The Rad® keeps yellow, and Cavendish fully inherits the green points jersey.

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Unlike the Cavendish of the past, the little Manxman was very gracious in victory when speaking of his former teammate and once bitter rival, Greipel;

“I knew he’d hit it early, actually he was stronger than I thought he’d be. André has guts, he rides like that. I actually didn’t beat him in the sprint, I beat him with the lunge. This is another great win for the team but more importantly, it raises the profile of Qhubeka yet again, and that is the reason we are here.”

Dammit … he’s almost making me like him!

Both Kittel and Kristoff have so far been pretty huge disappointments, by their usual standards. Both of their teams have invested heavily in getting them to the Tour ready to win, and both have been shadows of previous years … while Cavendish has been the rider of years past. Who says sprinting is boring and predictable? I just hope both Kittel and Kristoff eventually find their legs and timing again, so we can see some less lopsided sprints by the time we reach Paris.

Tomorrow’s stage has a lumpy profile that finishes with a good bit of rolling hills in the last third. It’s the longest stage of this year’s race, 237.5km, so it’ll eat some legs that way, but the biggest concern is the crosswinds and echelons that are likely to be present. It could be a much more complicated day than many expect. There could be another big field sprint, but I’ve got a hunch that it’ll be a smaller group making it to the line to fight it out. Maybe a breakaway finally gets their day? It’ll be interesting, regardless.

Tim

PS- buy a kit yet? #illbeyourbestfriend

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